EU parliament endorses 5-month maternity leave

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STRASBOURG: European lawmakers voting amid a sea of pink and blue baby balloons, gave their blessing to hotly contested plans for all new mothers across Europe to have five months of maternity leave.
Some governments have warned the 20-week fully paid leave will add a huge burden to hard-pressed taxpayers, while business leaders say it may work against giving jobs to women in the long term.
In a first reading of the proposal, a large majority of MEPs voted in favour of raising maternity leave from 14 weeks to 20 while giving fathers across the 27-nation bloc two weeks to spend time with their newborn. The proposal then goes to EU governments. Britain for one, which the same day unveils its harshest spending cuts in decades, says it would more than double its maternity leave bill, adding up to 2.4 billion pounds a year (2.75 billion euros).
Britain currently has the European Union’s longest maternity leave, at 52 weeks. But it is far from fully paid, with only the first six weeks on 90 percent pay. German women get 14 weeks, French women 16, and Belgians 15 weeks.
“Maternity must be standardised, it is a service rendered to society but the rules vary from one country to another,” said Portuguese Socialist Edite Estrela, who introduced the bill. “Our societies need children.” Though the draft was adopted by a large majority by the parliament’s women’s rights committee last February, some MEPs fear it could in the long run undermine employment opportunities for women.
“It goes too far,” said British liberal Elizabeth Lynne. “We mustn’t ruin systems that are functioning. Leave on full pay will stop many young women from finding a job.” Conservative French MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier warned that the proposal would “end up turning against women.” Dutch Green member Marije Cornelissen retorted: “You want to perpetuate a traditional system where the father earns the wage and the woman looks after the children.”
Wednesday’s vote by the 736-member parliament is a first reading, meaning the decision then goes to governments for debate before returning to the house for a final vote. The European Commission had suggested 18 weeks maternity leave, in line with recommendations by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding last month warned that the costs of fully paid, 20-week maternity leave over a 20-year period would reach “up to 40 billion euros for France and 57 billion euros for the UK.”
Condemning the extra costs, business leaders argue that the new statutory leave is unnecessary EU meddling in workable national systems which, in the last instance, may harm employment for women. “The proposal is expensive and burdensome … and will increase the complexity of hiring women,” said the head of Business Europe, Philippe de Buck.