The plenary session of the federal parliament on Tuesday approved an amendment to the law on maternity leave that will ensure all women are entitled to 15 weeks leave, regardless of their circumstances.
The new law was proposed by the Ecolo-Groen coalition, with the support of CD&V and the two socialist parties. The vote passed with 96 votes for to 41 against, with nine abstentions.
At present, the law states that a pregnant woman can only take maternity leave after giving birth if she worked prior to the birth. Women who were on temporary unemployment, sick leave or absent from work for some other reason had those weeks deducted from their maternity leave – as if they had started to use up the leave allowance early.
The result was that many women did not receive the full 15 weeks of leave through no fault of their own.
The change was particularly timely given the number of female employees who were placed on temporary unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic. To cover those cases, the new law voted on Thursday will be backdated to March 1.
MR, the party of prime minister Sophie Wilmès, declined to support the measure, MP Florence Reuter claiming it was politically motivated and would have “catastrophic repercussions for business”. There exists already an agreement in principle between workers and employers, she said. In addition, the change to the law would make it less likely for businesses to employ women.
The union UCM, which represents small business owners, called for the change to be modified.
“Some are saying we should wait another month,” said Marie-Colline Leroy (Ecolo), one of the two proponents of the bill. “But when there is injustice, there is urgency. So we work and we don’t wait,” she said.
“And to fight discrimination in hiring, there is always the solution to extend paternity or co-parenting leave. I have taken note of the idea for future committee debates,” she added.