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Parliament proposes standard maternity leave rights for self-employed women

EU Member States should grant standard social protection, including at least 14 weeks' maternity leave allowance, for self-employed women and for wives or life partners of self-employed workers, says the European Parliament in a binding proposal to update an EU directive.

Compromise amendments agreed with the European Council say it should be up to Member States to decide whether paying for membership of social insurance schemes (covering maternity leave, sickness, invalidity and old age) must be mandatory for self-employed women or whether they can access this system voluntarily.

The EU is to update an existing law to give standard social protection rights to self-employed workers and the spouses or life partners of self-employed workers. Spouses or life partners are not employees but they nonetheless habitually help the self-employed worker (which is very common in farming, small firms and liberal professions). Self-employed workers, and self-employed workers' assisting spouses could either be given the opportunity to pay to join a social coverage scheme or could be forced to do so, as each Member State chooses, stress MEPs in a sensitive compromise amendment negotiated with the Council at second reading.

In any event, any pregnant self-employed woman or self-employed worker's spouse would be entitled to a "sufficient maternity allowance to cover interruptions at their work" of at least 14 weeks' maternity leave, i.e. the minimum paid maternity leave laid down for normal employees by the EU maternity leave directive.

Again, it will be up to Member States to decide whether the leave is mandatory or voluntary, and whether this social protection can also be "proportional to the participation in the activities of the self-employed worker".

Temporary replacement

Access to any existing national services providing temporary replacement of a woman on maternity leave can be considered "an alternative to, or a part of, the maternity allowance", said MEPs. In this case, the woman in leave would not receive the full maternity allowance but could be easily replaced in the family business.

No discrimination when establishing a company

Lastly, Parliament calls on Member States to take necessary measures to ensure that the conditions for establishing a company between spouses (or life partners when recognised by national law) are not more restrictive than between other persons.

Next steps

The Council is set to adopt these amendments on 7 June. Member States will then have two years to implement all these changes to the directive, or up to four years "if Member States find difficulties" in finding the way to grant standard social protection to self-employed workers or spouses and partners of the self-employed.


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