CONSERVATIVES TO BLOCK WOMEN'S RIGHTS?

EUROPEAN LEGISLATION

CONSERVATIVES TO BLOCK WOMEN'S RIGHTS ?
WOMEN.INT    20 March 1991        2

British Conservative MEP's are trying to block the introduction
of a European Community directive planned to give new and
stronger rights to pregnant and breast feeding workers. Tory
MEP's were virtually alone in voting against the first reading
of the directive in the European Parliament last December.

The draft directive is now back with the Council of Ministers,
and with support from 11 of the 12 Community countries, has a
good chance of passing through all stages of procedure by
Summer 1991. It would then be down to Member States to
introduce their own legislation to comply with its terms.

The British government, still the odd one out in Europe, is
however threatening to block the directive in the European
Court. It is hoping to build a case on the grounds that the
directive is being treated as a health and safety issue under
the Community Charter of basic social rights for workers and
not as an employment matter where individual Member States have
a right to refuse to comply. Britain was alone in Europe in
refusing to adopt the Community Charter.

Under the draft directive, all workers, including seasonal and
part-time workers, would be entitled to an uninterrupted period
of 16 weeks leave on full pay, to commence not less than two
weeks before the expected date of delivery. Member states can
grant additional leave with pay for the entire period at not
less than 80 per cent of normal salary. Pregnant and breast
feeding workers would be entitled to protection from physical,
chemical and biological agents and this could involve moves to
alternative work or away from shift or night work. There would
be an obligation on employers to eliminate or control hazards.
Workers would be entitled to full information on risks to
health and fertility at the start of a new job. Pay and
employment rights would be maintained during periods of leave
and there would be redress for workers who believed their
rights had been infringed.

This would be a clear advance on current United Kingdom
legislation, which is stingy in both pay and leave and which
does not give any special protection against hazards to
pregnant and breast-feeding women at work. But if the
Government succeed in bottling the directive up in the European
Court, it could be many years before the Member States are
obliged to introduce new legislation.

Despite all the hype that attitudes to Europe and to equal
opportunities were going to change with the departure of
Margaret Thatcher from office, the evidence suggests that it
will be the same mixture as before from the "new man" in
Downing Street.

From Daily Hazard n30, March 1991.
London Hazards Centre, 308 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8DS.


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