Legal amendments bring about better maternity cover
In July 2007, legislative amendments to the laws on protection of maternity and parental leave came into effect. Although these amendments do not fully meet the demands of working women, they are an important step towards an improved legal protection of maternity. Overall, the trade unions welcomed the legislative changes, while the employers considered the penalty envisaged in the case of violation of the respective legislation as being too high.
Several amendments to the legal framework on protection of maternity came into effect on 25 July 2007 when they were published in the Official Gazette of the Republic. The new Laws 109(I)/2007, 110(I)/2007 and 111(I)/2007 amended, respectively, the Protection of Maternity Law 100(I)/1997, the Social Insurance Law 41/1980 and the Parental Leave and Leave on Grounds of Force Majeure Law 69(I)/2002.
Provisions of new legislative framework
With regard to the Protection of Maternity Law 100(I)/1997, the main changes provide for the following aspects:
- maternity leave has been increased from 16 to 18 weeks (Article 3, paragraph 2);
- the period during which new mothers have the right to be absent from work for one hour a day is increased from six to nine months. Mothers can avail of this measure either for breastfeeding or, more generally, for satisfying the baby’s increased care needs (Article 5, paragraph 1);
- the Labour Disputes Court is the designated court as being competent to rule on disputes arising out of the enforcement of the law (Article 3, paragraph 7A);
- if the law is violated, certain employment conditions will not be enforced, notably those that set – as a condition for responsibility of the violator and/or the right to compensation or other remedy – a minimum period of employment or minimum number of working hours for the employee, or a maximum limit on compensation (Article 3, paragraph 9A1). This amendment is deemed to be of particular importance in the extent to which it safeguards working women who have not completed the six-month trial period of a new employment contract;
- the penalty for violation or failure to enforce the law is increased from CYP 1,000 to CYP 4,000 (from €1,718 to €6,870 as at 17 November 2007) (Article 3, paragraph 9).
It should be noted that all of these legislative amendments also cover working women who were already on maternity leave on 25 July 2007, the date the law came into effect. Moreover, the amendment of Social Insurance Law 41/1980 only refers to the legal provisions concerning the increased maternity leave cover, since social security will provide for the increased maternity allowance.
The main amendments of the Parental Leave and Leave on Grounds of Force Majeure Law 69(I)/2002 relate to the length of parental leave and the prohibition of termination of employment while being on leave. Specifically, the amendment of Article 4 of this basic law ensures that in cases where a woman gives birth to more than one child on the same day, the length of parental leave will amount to 13 weeks for each child instead of 13 weeks in total. As regards the prohibition of termination of employment, the amendment of Article 17 of this law ensures that neither taking parental leave nor requesting parental leave shall be a cause of terminating employment. In the event that employment is terminated because a request to take parental leave has been submitted, then such termination shall be unlawful and the employee shall be entitled to compensation.
Reactions of social partners
The government, represented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, MLSI), is of the opinion that, despite the greatly increased costs that will result from the recent legislative changes, these are changes of great urgency. Costs will mainly rise due to lengthening the maternity leave period from 16 to 18 weeks, which will correspond to around 12.5% more than the amount previously spent.
For MLSI, these legislative changes have a double purpose: they are intended to support family life, while also addressing the problem of a low birth rate. For this reason, according to the Chair of the Labour Committee and General Secretary of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PΕΟ), the PEO Labour Committee consented to vote for the government proposal, moving away from its members’ demand to increase the length of maternity leave to 25 weeks.
Overall, the trade union movement took a positive attitude in relation to the legislative changes, pointing out that the recent improvements have been longstanding demands of the trade unions. Moreover, these amendments reflect, to a great extent, the policy course indicated by the trade unions in the framework of the proceedings of the Labour Advisory Board. PEO also believes that the recent changes will help to better and more effectively protect working women from unlawful dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy.
However, on behalf of the employers’ side, both the Employers and Industrialists Federation (Ομοσπονδία Εργοδοτών και Βιομηχάνων, ΟΕΒ) and the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Εμπορικό και Βιομηχανικό Επιμελητήριο Κύπρου, CCCI) reiterated their reservations about the penalty envisaged in the event of violation of the relevant legislation, which they considered to be too high.
Eva Soumeli, Cyprus Institute of Labour (INEK/PEO)