On 3 October 2008, the European Commission submitted its proposal for a Directive of the European
Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 92/85/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. The main aim of the proposal is to improve the protection offered to pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. In particular, it extends the minimum length of maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks (2008/0193(COD)).
Consequently, the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality amended the Commission's proposal heavily, most notably by increasing the minimum term of maternity leave to 20 weeks at full pay, much to the dismay of ESBA's members as this will have significant implications for small business employers with an average staff of 3-4. Moreover, the measure could have adverse effects on employment of female workers.
Today, during a stock-taking exercise within the European Council regarding the dossier on maternity leave, it became clear that the Council is not prepared to take the suggested 20 weeks at full pay as a realistic basis for negotiations. Even a shorter period of leave would not be acceptable at full pay. Although payment at the level of 'sick pay' has shown to be a more attractive option to the Council, several delegations raised concern that 'sick pay' is an indistinct term as levels of sick pay differ considerably between Member States. There is still discussion on whether or not to include a possibility for a 'passarelle' clause.
ESBA President Tina Sommer said: ''ESBA supports the Council's resilience in the matter. We all want adequate, flexible maternity leave but it should be for governments in dialogue with parents and their employers to decide how much their economy can afford to give and how it is to be delivered. These proposals should be about setting minimum EU standards for the health and safety of pregnant workers - not adding new payroll costs for overburdened companies and national social security systems.''