Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Parenting: Parental leave - how much is enough?

European Parliament - The length of maternity and paternity leave are at the heart of a crucial vote in the plenary sitting of March 24-25. MEPs will be asked to decide on a new directive setting minimum limits of paid parental leave. MEPs on the Women's Rights Committee voted 19-13 on 23 February to back extending minimum paid maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks. For fathers they want a minimum of 2 weeks paid leave. We spoke to Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela who drafted a report on the draft directive.

Such has been the controversy of this issue that the political right in the European Parliament forced a vote last year to be put on ice as they didn't want paternity leave included in the directive.
What are the main objectives of your report?

On the one hand to continue to improve the promotion and defence of pregnant and breastfeeding women at their workplace. On the other hand to include gender equality regarding families professional and personal life in any legislation.

My report also contains some innovative proposals aimed at promoting more justice and equality, namely including domestic workers, who are currently excluded from European legislation, and the rights of parents who adopt a child aged less than 12 months to be the same as birth parents in terms of parental leave.

What kind of resistance have you encountered to your proposals?

There are two types of resistance. First there is ideological resistance - the European Parliament represents people from different origins, different cultures, different countries, with different ideologies and life experiences – that comes up when we’re debating issues of this nature, namely with regard to the opinion that women should stay home.

Then, there’s the financial resistance, those who argue about the cost. But this directive is 18 years old, we’re not legislating for tomorrow, EU member states will have 3 years to transpose it into national legislation. It would be a very bad sign for us, for EU countries and for Europe, if once the directive comes into force the situation were not more favourable than it is right now.

Taking into account the critical economic situation, is this the right moment to implement such measures?

What will be the consequences of the low birth rate? Today’s children are tomorrow’s taxpayers, responsible for guaranteeing the sustainability of social security. We need an active population and must combat the stereotype that maternity not only is not a disease but also cannot be seen as a problem or a burden for society, because it is a service provided to society. Women must not be obliged to choose between being mothers and, for example, having management responsibilities.

The middle class cannot afford to stay home too long without any kind of income and a long period away makes the return to the labour market more difficult. We make a balanced and sensible proposal, corresponding to the expectations of people, of families and of women. Moreover, working part-time may seem a good solution but when women reach retirement age, they find themselves penalised, exactly because they stayed home to take care of children or worked part-time.

There are studies indicating that the gap between women and men's remuneration gets even bigger when retirement comes. Women’s poverty is greater in old age.

What do you expect to be the future of paternity and maternity?

We should promote and adopt more and more policies and measures aimed at the sharing of professional and public responsibilities. I defend paternity leave because it is not contemplated in European legislation, although it already exists in many member states, in order to fight the idea that the responsibility for the education and follow-up of children is exclusively female.

In Northern countries, a man who does not share parental leave and is not present at home is considered a bad father. In the South, a man who takes parental leave is considered a bad worker. This will allow a better harmony, taking into account the children’s interests, women will be able to have children earlier and have the number of children they want, as studies indicate that Europeans don’t have the children they would like. I am for the sharing of all types of responsibility.

Published by i On Global Trends - Mike Hitchen Online - news, opinion, analysis
See also Sydney Irresistible and for personal comment, Mike Hitchen Unleashed
Putting principles before profits