ANN CAHILL: Proposals for twenty weeks’ paid maternity

NEW mothers would be entitled to 20 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay and fathers would have two weeks’ paid leave under proposals passed by the European Parliament.

The issue was hotly contested, with Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly warning that in the economic climate it was not practical and young women would suffer.

However, another Irish MEP, Joe Higgins, said the new legislation was needed more than ever now as young women faced discrimination and exploitation in the workforce.

The draft legislation has yet to be agreed by member states, with Ireland among several who do not favour it. The Government says it would cost €300 million a year to implement.

But this figure has been contested by Labour MEP Nessa Childers, who said it ignores the fact that half of Irish women are given full pay by their employers already.

All public servants in the country are also paid their full salary during maternity leave.

Irish mothers are entitled to receive between €225 and €270 per week from the state for 26 weeks. Employers deduct this when they are paying women on maternity, so their wage bill is reduced.

Ms Childers said the costs to the economy would be reduced even more if as expected it would encourage more women to return to work after having children.

Maternity benefit was already cut by 4.1% in last year’s budget, but EU legislation would ring-fence it from further cuts, she said.

“Instead of penalising women for having children, we should support them and provide them the opportunity to balance work and family life. We must now negotiate with national ministers to make these improvements a reality,” she added.

However, Ireland South MEP Mr Kelly told the parliament in Irish that much of it was based on idealism but we needed to be practical and realistic.

He believed that implementing the proposals would mean that young women especially would not be able to find work. He was speaking as a parent with two daughters who he would like to see having an equal opportunity get jobs with the boys, he said.

In Ireland, 20% of young people were unemployed, four small and medium- sized businesses were being closed every day, he said.

As a result, he believed that praiseworthy as the proposals were they should be set aside for now.

Dublin MEP Jim Higgins said he believed the proposals would protect women, including making explicit their right to return to the same job after maternity leave and they could not be asked to work overtime in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy or while they were breast-feeding.

Having failed to pass earlier this year, the revised proposal was adopted by 390 votes to 192 with 59 abstentions.


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