Maternity leave and working time top EP’s to-do list
By Marianne Slegers | Friday 26 June 2009
The European Parliament decided, on 6 May, to postpone the vote on a report on the revision of Directive 92/85/EE, which aims to “improve the safety and health of pregnant workers or workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding”. The EP’s Women’s Rights Committee, which now will have to look at the report from Portugal’s Edite Estrela (PES) again, had voted in favour of extending the period of paid maternity leave to a minimum of 20 weeks (now 14 weeks). The proposal to send the report back to the committee came from the EPP-ED group, which argued that “there won’t be a compromise with the Council at first reading and that the positions within the EP were too different”. The directive’s revision still has a long way to go. Some member states, along with business organisations, fear that an extension of the terms and period of maternity leave could negatively affect women’s participation in the labour market and are concerned about the extra costs. An agreement, if there is one, is not likely before the end of the Swedish EU Presidency, in December 2009.
WORKING TIME DIRECTIVE
It has been off the table since the end of April when talks on revising the present directive collapsed. But, the ‘seven headed monster’ – as it is described by people working on the issue – will be back. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers had a massive clash over the draft legislation, the main stumbling block being the “opt-out” clause (which allows for longer working weeks than the EU norm). The institutions ended up in a more ideological than practical fight which eventually led to the conciliation’s failure.
All eyes are focused on the European Commission which must now make the next step. A political decision on what to do has not been taken yet and is not likely to happen before more is known about the reappointment of José Manuel Barroso as Commission president. Just yet, Barroso may not want to propose a revision that is not to the EP’s liking.
The Commission has basically three options: do nothing; start infringement procedures against the member states that are facing problems complying with the EU Court of Justice judgements on on-call time calculations (SiMAP-Jaeger, Dellas); or come up with a new proposal to revise the directive (focusing, for example, on the issue of how to count on-call time - as working time or not).
Experts on the issue expect a new legislative proposal to be the most likely. If this is done before June, a “first stage consultation” period will take place during which all the relevant stakeholders can give their opinion. Only during the “second stage consultation” would the Commission proposal focus more concretely on certain “issues” such as on-call time. This, along with the opt-out, caused the main dispute between the EP and Council: the EP wanted on-call time to be counted as working time and the Council refused since this leads to problems in certain sectors, such as health care.