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Wide variation in European maternity benefits

September 21 2006 - A recent study has found that the UK and Ireland have the lowest levels of statutory maternity pay in Western Europe. British and Irish women receive lower pay entitlements than those in some Eastern European countries. In contrast, Denmark and Norway have the highest level of maternity benefits, more than twice those in the UK.

The study by Mercer Human Resource Consulting compared statutory pay accumulated over six months' maternity leave in 13 European countries. For women earning €22 000 a year, the figure would be just €5300 in the UK and €5850 in Ireland. Entitlements in Germany would also be relatively low, at €5900, along with those in France, Spain and the Netherlands, all at €6750. At the other end of the scale, pay received in Italy would be €9150 while in Denmark and Norway it would be as much as €11 000.

Hungary has the highest level of maternity benefits in the Eastern European countries surveyed with women entitled to €7100 after six months' leave compared to €6750 in Poland and €2100 in the Czech Republic.

Mark Sullivan, worldwide partner at Mercer Human Resource Consulting said:

"While many aspects of employment law are becoming more standardized across Europe, large discrepancies persist in the area of maternity benefits. Laws have been extended in the UK to offer women longer maternity leave, yet pay levels are still very low compared to the rest of Europe. However, more companies now offer benefits above the statutory minimum to create a more attractive employment package."

In April 2007, new rules will be introduced in the UK that will improve the situation for women taking longer than six months' leave. The study found large differences in the number of weeks' paid maternity leave across Europe.

Country

Sweden
Norway
Denmark
Czech Republic
Hungary
France (for first and second child)
Poland (for first child)
Netherlands
Spain
Germany
Weeks' paid maternity leave

96
52
50
28
24
16
16
16
16
14

Mark Sullivan continued:

"The length of maternity leave offered does not necessarily correlate to the level of benefits paid. Some countries allow long periods of leave but give low pay, and not everyone can afford to take the extended leave no matter how generous it might appear. It is important to look beyond maternity leave and benefits and also consider the culture in different countries and how willing companies are to provide career opportunities to women both before and after they have children."

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