What has the European Union done for Women? Well actually, a lot!
The Relationship between Women and the European Parliament
This week, I had the delight of welcoming women from the North West TUC’s Leadership Development Programme. The programme aims to increase the number of women in positions of power throughout our union sector. Their attendance was particularly fitting, considering I had just met with the Trade Union Intergroup to address the so called ‘trade union’ bill going through the UK Parliament. This got us discussing the role of the European Union and its relationship with women. With the pending EU referendum, it makes sense to acknowledge what is at stake for women.
In the past women had to work for the same employer for two years before being entitled to maternity rights. EU law has since set a baseline of 26 weeks working for the same employer continuously, into the 15th week before the baby is due, in order to get maternity rights.
An EU law passed in 2002 means that any parent with a child under five has the right to a minimum of 13 weeks unpaid parental leave to be taken when they choose before the child’s fifth birthday.
Right to return to work
EU laws now give new maternity rights which means a woman’s job, though not her specific post must be held open so she can return without loss of status or pay. Many older women will remember the days when getting pregnant meant losing your job.
Equal rights for part-time workers
Nearly half of British women workers work part time. In the past many women lost out but since July 2000 part-time workers have had equal rights to pro-rata paid leave, pensions, maternity rights, access to training and other company benefits.
European Protection Order
This will mean that crime victims, such as women who have suffered abuse, and who have already been granted protection in one EU Member State (eg: through a restraining order) will be able to get similar protection if they move to another EU Member State.
Although there are many other wins, these are just a few that highlight the importance of our EU membership. By leaving the EU, we threaten to undermine the steps taken by Labour MEPs towards gender equality. Luckily, the North West women leaders I met were, and are, achieving great things throughout my region. It was delightful meeting them and I wish them continued success at BECTU, CWC, NAHT, PCS, RCM, TUC, UCU, Unison, and Unite.
So my message is this: we must make sure that we remain in Europe to ensure women’s rights prosper at home and in the work place.