Proposed new directive on the health and safety of pregnant workers

June 2012February 2012August 2011February 2011

Update June 2012
Member state officials meeting in May decided that there was not enough support among national governments for the restart of informal discussions with the European Parliament. The strong differences in opinion between the two institutions remain.

Update February 2012
The most controversial issue in the Commission's proposal to revise the directive governing the health and safety of pregnant workers remains that of maternity leave.

The European Parliament wants to see the period of maternity leave on full pay increased to 20 weeks. Member states disagree. Ministers at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in December were informed that:

"it has become abundantly clear that the period of 20 weeks of maternity leave with full pay is unacceptable to the Council. Taking into account the broad diversity of maternity protection and social security systems among the different Member States, as well as the financial implications especially during crisis, the introduction of such a solution could have counterproductive effects."

Discussions continue.

Update August 2011
The EC's proposal aims to improve the protection offered to pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. Member states had concerns about it when it was published, but their concerns about the European Parliament's report - see the February 2011 update below - are greater still. The most controversial of the Parliament's recommendations was the one in favour of maternity leave being for a minimum of 20 weeks on full pay.

Opinions among the member states remain divided. However, the forthcoming Polish presidency - second half of 2011 - has committed itself to making progress on this issue and is planning to submit a new progress report to the meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in early December.

Update February 2011
Member states discussed the Commission's proposal at a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 6th December. As IAAPA Europe anticipated in its December newsletter, they took a very different view of the proposal from the one expressed by the European Parliament at its first reading in October.


Ministers were unhappy at the Parliament's proposal to extend the minimum maternity leave from 14 weeks to 20 weeks on full pay, and advocated 18 weeks instead. They also queried the likely cost of some of the MEPs' recommendations and were split on whether or not to include paternity leave in the directive. They emphasised the need for the directive to set minimum standards which respected the different situations and approaches applying across the EU.

It was left to the Belgian presidency (last six months of 2010) to consult the incoming Hungarian and Polish presidencies (2011) on the Council's future approach to this draft directive.

A 2008 proposal from the European Commission is now gradually making its way through the European Parliament and the Council (representing national governments). It is intended to update a 1992 directive covering health and safety at the workplace for pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. It covers issues such as maternity leave, dismissal and employment rights.

The European Parliament adopted its opinion on 20th October, making several changes to the Commission's original text and adding new rights for workers and their partners.

The Employment and Social Affairs Council met on 6th December to consider the Parliament's report and think about its own first formal response to the Commission proposal.

Key points of the text, as amended by the European Parliament
These include:

• Giving mothers a right to at least 20 weeks' continuous maternity leave on full pay. (The EC had proposed 18 weeks; the current directive offers 14.)

• Maternity leave to include compulsory fully paid leave of at least 6 weeks after childbirth, and this to be irrespective of the number of days worked before confinement.

• Fathers to be entitled to two weeks' continuous leave after their 'life partner' has given birth.

• Workers to be protected from dismissal until at least 6 months after the end of maternity leave. Similar rights to apply to workers on paternity leave.

• Once back at work, mothers to be given time off for breastfeeding - two periods of one hour per day.

• Maternity leave to count as employment in the calculation of pension rights.

• Other amendments covering working conditions, night and overtime work, pay, training opportunities and career development - all for pregnant workers or workers who have recently given birth.

Member states' response
The early indications are that national governments disagree with many of the Parliament's amendments - and especially the idea of extending maternity leave to 20 weeks. There are also concerns about the cost implications of MEPs' amendments more generally. It is likely to be some time before the Council completes its first reading.