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Background
 

FAQs on the health and safety of pregnant workers

Women's rights/Equal opportunities - 23-02-2010 - 20:39
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Minimum maternity leave in the EU should be extended from 14 to 20 weeks and be fully paid, believe MEPs in the Women's Rights Committee. An entitlement to paid paternity leave of at least two weeks was also approved by the committee.

The committee's report, drafted by Edite Estrela (S&D, PT) on the health and safety of pregnant workers, was adopted by 19 votes in favour, 13 against and 1 abstention on 23 February. The draft legislation seeks to lay down minimum rules at EU level.
 
The FAQs below look more closely at some of the crucial points of the committee vote.
 
REF.: 20100223BKG69360

1- How will EU legislation affect national legislation on maternity leave?

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The European Commission's proposal provides for minimum standards at EU level. Member States may introduce or maintain provisions that are more favourable to workers than those laid down in this Directive. However, implementation of this Directive may under no circumstances be used as a reason for reducing the level of protection in the fields covered by this Directive.
 
The Women's Rights Committee also adopted amendments stating that the provisions of this Directive on maternity leave should not conflict with Member States’ other rules on parental leave and should not undermine those rules.
 
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2- How long is the minimum duration of maternity leave at EU level?

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Currently, under the directive of 1992, the duration of maternity leave is 14 weeks minimum. The draft legislation proposes to extend the minimum length of maternity leave in the EU from 14 to 18 weeks. The Women's Rights Committee voted on Tuesday 23 February for a minimum length of 20 weeks. This still needs to be approved by the full Parliament at the March II plenary in Brussels.
 
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3- Is it compulsory for the mother to take leave?

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Yes, according to the current directive 92/85/EC, two weeks are compulsory before or after confinement. According to the new proposal, a period of 6 weeks is compulsory after childbirth.
 
According to the Commission's proposal, the extension of maternity leave and a compulsory period of 6 weeks correspond to the ILO Maternity Protection Convention of 2000 and are intended to generally improve the health and safety of women giving birth to a child.
 
After debating the 6 weeks compulsory maternity leave period, a majority of MEPs in the Women's Rights Committee voted in favour but deleted the reference to the ILO Convention.
 
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4- Do fathers have the legal right to paternity leave at EU level?

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Member States must ensure that fathers are entitled to fully paid paternity leave of at least two weeks within the period of maternity leave, says the EP committee. So far, there is no legislation at EU level on paternity leave.
 
 
Member States that have not introduced fully paid paternity leave to be taken by fathers on a compulsory basis are strongly encouraged to do so.
 
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5- How much pay during maternity leave?

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Workers on maternity leave should be paid their full salary and the maternity allowance should be 100% of the last monthly salary or the average monthly salary, argue MEPs.
 
In its proposal, the European Commission recommends the principle of full payment of salary during maternity leave without making this binding. The Commission proposed that the maternity leave allowance should not be lower than sick pay.
 
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6- Are women obliged to breastfeed?

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The draft legislation does not lay down an obligation to breastfeed. The amendments in committee makes only some references to the World Health Organisation recommendation of 16 April 2002 "on a global strategy on infant and young child feeding", which states that exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a child's life guarantees optimum growth and development. On the basis of this recommendation, the Member States should encourage the provision of leave designed to fulfil this purpose.
 
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7- Is night work for pregnant women and mothers forbidden?

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There is no ban on night work. However, workers cannot be obliged to perform night work during the 10 weeks prior to the childbirth, during the remainder of the pregnancy if the mother or the unborn child has a health problem and during the entire period of breastfeeding.
 
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8- What are the next steps?

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The full Parliament will vote on 25 March at "first reading" on the amendments proposed by the Women's Rights Committee. Other amendments may be added for this vote as well. The resulting amended legislation will then be submitted to the Council of EU ministers. If the Council changes the text adopted by Parliament, then it goes back to Parliament for a "second reading".
 
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