Maternity Pay: What Is The Best Deal For Everyone?
Last week the European Parliament voted by 327 to 320 in favour of legislation to increase the number of weeks that women in the European Union receive maternity leave on full pay.
The news received little attention in the UK as the vote took place on the same day that the Government announced its controversial Comprehensive Spending Review which will see up to half a million people in the public sector lose their jobs in the coming years. The vote, which increases maternity leave on full pay to 20 weeks, will not become law unless EU governments support it and the UK is lobbying against.
Currently, women in the UK get up to a year's maternity leave, with up to 39 weeks of this paid. However, only the first six weeks are on 90% pay. The remaining weeks are on around £124 a week. This means that in most cases, unless a woman receives a better maternity pay deal from her employer than is legislated for, she has to hurry back to work as fast as possible.
The timing of the vote was bad for British women, given that it is hard to argue for increased maternity pay at a time when so many are in fear of losing jobs and benefits are being slashed left, right and centre.
Several people have argued that it could increase discrimination against women in the workplace if employers fear hiring a woman of childbearing years could incur additional costs, even if the government would end up paying back most of the money. It's a strong argument in the current climate.
However, it was interesting to read how the vote was viewed outside the UK. El Mundo ran an article which basically stated that the UK mothers were “the most penalised” in the EU. It said that
Sweden offers a year of maternity leave on 80% of a woman's salary with the man being able to take two months' paternity leave and another four months of the woman's maternity leave if she wants to share it with him. Danish women, it says, can take between 50 and 54 weeks of maternity leave at between 90 and 100% of her salary with her partner able to share 32 weeks of this. Irish women can take six and a half months on full pay with their partner able to share four of those months. In Bulgaria women can take a year off on full pay and fathers or grandfathers can share part of this. In Hungary women have 24 weeks off on full pay and in Slovenia women get a year off on full pay.Continued on the next page