Longer maternity leave eyed in EU to boost births

Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:19pm EDT
 
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The minimum maternity leave in European Union countries would be raised by six weeks to a total of 20 in a proposal by EU lawmakers Wednesday designed to boost flagging birth rates.

The move, which extends a proposal by the EU executive to raise the mandatory time off for new mothers to 18 weeks with full pay, could meet strong resistance from some EU governments and businesses.

Some EU governments, notably economic powerhouse Germany, may be reluctant to back the plan in the face of shorter-term budget austerity measures needed to ensure recovery from recession in Europe.

But economists say Europe's aging population is a financial time bomb that could damage economic growth rates in coming decades unless there are more young people to help foot the bill.

EU projections show the number of elderly people will almost double in the next 50 years, straining health care and pension budgets.

"Europe needs more children to safeguard its economic future," Edite Estrela, a socialist member of the European Parliament from Portugal, said.

EU governments will discuss the proposal in the coming months and will likely vote on it next year, but Germany has already hinted it could oppose it.

Constanze Krehl, a German lawmaker from the socialist group in the European Parliament, said the extension would be "strong disadvantage to women in the labor market."

Under parliament's proposal, workers on maternity leave must be paid their full salary, equal to their last monthly payment or their average monthly pay.

Countries that offer workers family-related leave would have some flexibility in how they implement it.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Michael Roddy)