Revision of the Maternity protection (Pregnant workers) Directive - 92/85/EEC, state of play and follow up

Brussels, 1-2/12/2009


On 20 October 2006 the European Commission launched a consultation in two stages of the European social partners on the issue of reconciliation of professional, private and family life. The ETUC expressed its views quite extensively[[ETUC’s position on the first stage of consultation:
ETUC’s position on the second stage of consultation: ]].

With regard to updating the regulatory framework, the Commission consulted the social partners on:

a) the introduction of new types of leave: paternity leave, leave to care for dependent family members, adoption leave;

b) the improvement of maternity protection (Pregnant Workers Directive 92/85/EEC) in three areas: duration of leave, level of payment, protection of women returning from maternity leave;

c) improvements to Community provisions in relation to parental leave in order to better achieve the aims of the Parental Leave Directive 96/34/EC, based on a framework agreement of the European social partners.

With regard to the proposed revision of the Pregnant Workers Directive, the ETUC has welcomed the Commission’s support for the need to review and improve this Directive. ETUC agreed with the need to strengthen the Directive in the above mentioned areas, supported the lengthening of the leave to 18 weeks, and especially demanded stronger guarantees for payment during maternity leave.
However, ETUC has also demanded to strengthen the health and safety dimension of the Directive, notably in terms of prevention and risk assessment, and the need to strengthen the right to breastfeeding facilities. Another important matter ETUC has drawn attention to is the need to extend its protection to all workers in atypical forms of employment including domestic workers.
In addition, ETUC has also referred to the need to bring the EU Directive in line with ILO convention 103 (Maternity Protection Convention) as revised in 2000 and the Recommendations attached to it (ILO Recommendations 191).

In the meantime, the European Social Partners have done joint work on reconciliation of work, private and family life, notably by sending a joint letter on childcare (7 July 2008), and have negotiated a revision of their Parental Leave Agreement (18 June 2009), which introduces among other things a non-transferable part of parental leave to promote fathers’ take up. However, they have refrained from joint action on the revision of the Pregnant workers Directive, and on new forms of leave (although some reference is made to adoption leave in the revised text of the Parental leave agreement).

Procedure in the EP

In October 2008, the European Commission has come up with a proposal for a revision of the Pregnant workers Directive which has since been discussed in the European Parliament and the Council.

In January 2009, ETUC presented its views on the proposals in a hearing in the European Parliament, and following that sent a written position to the responsible EP committees (the Women’s rights committee – FEM - which was the lead committee, and the Employment committee – EMPL), which was based on discussions in the ETUC Women’s Committee (see Annex). In this position, the ETUC not only argued in favour of strengthening especially the health and safety dimension of the Directive, but also suggested to introduce a right to paternity leave in the context of an extended legal basis (i.e. equal treatment) for the Directive.
Informal contacts took place with the rapporteurs in both committees to further explain ETUC’s views, and draft amendments were provided to the rapporteurs and other MEP’s friendly to our positions.

During the spring, the following things became clear:
On the one hand, there was general support in both EP committees for the proposals of ETUC to strengthen the health and safety components of the Directive, to extend its protection to ‘atypical’ workers, notably domestic workers, to ensure full protection of women’s salary and employment related rights during maternity leave, and to introduce provisions to support women who are breastfeeding.

On the other hand, in particular in the Women’s committee, little progress was made to find overall agreement between the different political groups, necessary to get majority support for the vote in first reading. The debate focussed on the length of the leave (proposals ranging from the current 14 weeks to 24 weeks), the question if maternity leave was only meant for women or could be shared with fathers, the introduction of new forms of leave (notably paternity leave, which some even want to make ‘compulsory’), and the need to have elaborate and detailed measures to promote breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, an attempt to bring the report in first reading to the vote in the last plenary session of the EP before its election recess failed because the EPP refused to vote on it.
This in a context in which signals coming from the Council working group were very clear: it would already be very hard to find agreement in the Council on the more modest Commission’s proposals, especially because of the financial implications of longer maternity leave.

In the meantime, the new Parliament has resumed its work on this dossier, and the EMPL and FEM committees are preparing their revised reports. There are signals that in particular in the FEM committee people are returning to their previous positions, some of them inspired by very national legislative or political realities or by very utopian ideas, with little understanding for the need to take a more ‘European’ approach on some issues and make an attempt to find reasonable compromises in order to get the necessary majority support in the plenary of the EP.

On the 11-th of November, the ETUC met with MEP’s in the Trade Union Intergroup’s Bureau, to discuss the state of play.
It became clear, that support by a majority in the EP could potentially be achieved by focussing on the core issues regarding the Pregnant workers Directive: better health and safety protection of pregnant women and young mothers, agreeing on a reasonable length of maternity leave of 18 weeks with full income protection, and leaving aside paternity leave.
However, it is as yet unclear if the (socialist) rapporteur (Edite Estrela) in the FEM committee and other MEP’s in her committee will be interested in such an approach.

In the timetable of the EP, the EMPL committee will discuss and vote on a revised report (rapporteur Rovana Plumb) on 1 and 2 December 2009, the FEM committee is expected to discuss and vote on a revised Estrela-report in January.

MEP’s from the various political groups are currently looking to the ETUC for guidance on how to proceed.

For the ETUC, the Pregnant workers Directive, safeguarding the health and safety of working women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, is an important social policy Directive, and to be seen as one important building block of a more comprehensive package of measures to promote the reconciliation of work and family life. In ETUC’s view, this Directive alone can therefore not be expected to deal with all the necessary policies and measures to promote gender equality and a more equal division of labour between men and women.
The ETUC Secretariat is increasingly concerned that some MEP’s seem to be willing to sacrifice potentially very important and relevant improvements for working women, in order to pursue among other things a stronger role for fathers in childrearing.

That is why the ETUC Secretariat is seeking the support of the Executive Committee to promote a majority position in Parliament along the following lines:

A revised Pregnant workers Directive should preferably:

- strengthen the health and safety dimension of the Directive, notably in terms of prevention and risk assessment, and ensure that workers’ representatives are consulted on such measures;

- address the need to also protect the reproductive health of men and women

- extend its scope to workers in ‘atypical’ forms of employment, in particular domestic workers

- extend its legal basis to equal treatment, to emphasize that the protection of women as (potential) mothers should not negatively affect their employment and career opportunities

- provide for a maternity leave of at least 18 weeks (as proposed by the European Commission, and in line with ILO recommendation 191)

- ensure payment of women’s full salary or equivalent to 100 % of the last monthly salary during maternity leave

- provide for adequate guarantees during maternity leave with regard to other income and career prospects including pension rights

- strengthen the rights of women returning from leave to get the same or an equivalent job

- provide for adequate protection against dismissal for at least half a year after returning from maternity leave

- introduce a simple and flexible provision providing women with the right to take one or more daily breaks for breastfeeding purposes, in line with ILO Convention 183.

The ETUC shares the view that a more equal division of labour between men and women with regard to childrearing demands possibilities for fathers to bond with their new-born child in an early stage (for instance through specific ‘paternity’ leave) and wider opportunities for men and women for parental leave, childcare and flexible working arrangements.
However, these issues should not be confused with the continued need for protection of women and their unborn or just born child when it comes to pregnancy and giving birth, in terms of health and safety protection and maternity leave of a sufficient length to allow women’s physical recovery. The ETUC is therefore strongly opposed to suggestions that the minimum period of maternity leave, established at EU level, could be shortened in favour of transferring a part of this leave to fathers.

If and in so far as no majority in Parliament can be found to include a specific right to paternity leave in the current revision of the Pregnant workers Directive, the ETUC will put pressure on the EP and other EU institutions to pursue a separate Community initiative on this matter rather than blocking progress on the revision of the Pregnant workers Directive.

The Executive Committee of the ETUC is asked to endorse this approach, and support the ETUC Secretariat in any attempt to find an acceptable compromise on this dossier that will strengthen the position of working women in the above mentioned areas.


- ETUC’s Position on the revision of the Pregnant workers Directive (January 2009)