Governments agree to extend parental leave

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EU employment ministers have agreed to extend minimum parental leave to four months per parent. The plan applies to all workers, regardless of what kind of contract they have, and will require changes to national laws in the UK, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Romania and Malta.

Meeting in Brussels yesterday (8 March), the Council of Ministers adopted a directive designed to improve work-life balance and encourage fathers to take leave after the birth of a child.

Parents will be allowed take four months each and transfer months between them to allow one parent to take up to seven months off. At least one month cannot be transferred to the other parent, a move seen as a boost to gender equality.

Other new elements include the clarification that people with fixed-term contracts, part-time workers and temporary agency contractors are also covered.

Parental leave comes on top of paid maternity leave which is currently granted for a minimum of 14 weeks.

New social protections for 'assisting spouses'

EU ministers also moved to strengthen social protection for self-employed workers and their spouses by adopting its first-reading position on a draft directive which will help those working in family businesses and microenterprises.

Ministers said the proposed new rules would remove disincentives to female entrepreneurship and recognise the contribution of spouses and partners, such as farmers' wives.

"Self-employed women, assisting spouses and life partners of self-employed workers such as farmers' wives are granted a maternity allowance enabling them to interrupt their occupational activity for at least 14 weeks," according to the text.

Meeting on International Women's Day, ministers agreed that women working in support roles for small businesses should receive autonomous social protection rights rather than being covered by their spouse's social insurance.

The Council explicitly extended the scope of the European Commission's proposal by including "life partners" as well as married spouses.

The decision on the amount of maternity allowance payable to "supporting spouses" will be left to the discretion of the member states.

The draft directive, which is part of the EU's work-life balance package, will be forwarded to the European Parliament for second reading. MEPs will this week (11 March) vote on a separate maternity leave report which would guarantee women 20 weeks leave with full pay.

EU social partners last year reached an agreement to increase minimum parental leave from three to four months, in rules that would be applicable to all employees across Europe (EURACTIV 19/06/09).

The new Framework Agreement on family leave was signed on 18 June 2009 by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP) and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME).

A first agreement on parental leave was signed between social partners in December 1995, establishing a three-month period. The agreement was followed by the adoption of an EU directive a year later.

  • 11 March 2010: MEPs to vote on maternity leave.

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