Brussels calls for longer, better-paid maternity leave
Only 65.5 percent of women with dependent children are in work, compared with 91.7 percent of men, EU officials said.
Brussels -- A proposal made by the European Commission to give working mothers longer and better-paid maternity leave has met with a cool reception from a EU employers' association and the German government.
EU Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla announced Friday that only 65.5 percent of women with dependent children are in work, compared with 91.7 percent of men.
"Our proposals to improve maternity leave will help women to combine work and family life," he said. "They should also help increase women's participation in the labor market and help face up to the challenges of demographic ageing."
In its proposal for revisions to an existing EU-wide law, the Brussels-based EU executive called for the minimum period of maternity leave allowed to women to be extended from 14 to 18 weeks, and recommended that member states guarantee them their full salary while they are taking care of their newborn babies.
Women should also be given more control over whether they take their leave before or after delivery, removing any demands that they take a set amount of leave before birth and insisting only that they take at least six weeks' leave afterwards.
At present, practices in the EU vary widely, with German women given 14 weeks of paid leave (a mandatory six before birth and eight after), Italians given 22 weeks and Latvians receiving up to 10 weeks before birth, 10 weeks after, a year with full pay and another six months of reduced pay.
The proposal also called on member states to "prohibit all preparations for a possible dismissal not related to exceptional circumstances during the maternity leave," strengthening the current law, which only prohibits actual dismissal during maternity leave.
It insisted that women be allowed to return to the same job or an equivalent one "on terms and conditions which are no less favorable."
However, reaction to the proposal from the German government ministry responsible for family affairs suggested that states may be reluctant to extend such benefits at a time of economic uncertainty.
A statement by the Federal Ministry for the Family said that the measures could create a "boomerang effect," whereby increasing such benefits would heighten the risk for employers taking on young women and generally hinder job creation.
UEAPME, a EU association for small and medium enterprises, also said that it was wary of the plan.
Spokeswoman Liliane Volozinskis said that the changes "may actually turn out to be counterproductive."
EU member states are growing increasingly concerned by the bloc's low birth rates and ageing population -- factors which are already putting national pension schemes under strain.
The EU therefore wants to make it easier and more attractive for women to work and raise families.
The proposals came on the back of a commission report saying that EU member states are not doing enough to provide daytime childcare.
The proposals presented on Friday have to be approved by member states and the European Parliament before they can come into force.