Friday, 19 September 2008

Maternity pay and the gender gap

Turning to serious matters just for a moment we've got this news that Brussels has decided to increase maternity pay.

Women will be entitled to full pay for the first 18 weeks of maternity leave under radical plans being drafted in Brussels.

This more than triples the amount currently received by new mothers in Britain but would saddle businesses and the taxpayer with a massive bill.

Ministers face an uphill battle to block the controversial proposals, which will be unveiled next month and enjoy the support of most other EU countries.

Brussels sets minimum levels of maternity leave and pay, while countries may apply their own rules beyond these provisions.

Now this may or may not be a good idea: different people will have different views on it no doubt. The point is that this is only one side of a coin. The other side is the gender pay gap.

A few years back, when I first started saying such things, it was considered extreme, even swivel eyed lunacy ( thanks one D. Cameron for that phrase) to say that one of the causes of the gender pay gap was the length of maternity leave and the costs to firms of providing it. You might recall the stick Godfrey Bloom got for suggesting that no rational employer would hire a woman of childbearing age.

Fast forward a few years to now and we find that this is now a commonplace, an accepted truth in The Guardian, we've even had people at the Equalities Commission stating it as obvious fact.

Which it is: of course, if the law says that one group of people are going to be more expensive to employ then it's obvious that that same group will be paid less.

What makes this EU rule making so infuriating is that we've got another arm of the organisation bleating about the gender pay gap and how we've got to do something to reduce it. But, as the above makes obvious, we can't do both.

We can't have longer maternity leave, higher maternity pay and also reduce the gender pay gap. We have to choose one over the other. And as the EU seems to be incapable of understanding that point it's better that we leave and then make up our own minds, don't you think?

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