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Having a baby' Sweden is best

London, Jan. 15 (Reuters): When it comes to maternity benefits, Sweden is one of the best countries in the world to have a baby, according to a survey released today.

Norway, Denmark and Italy have the highest maternity pay in Europe and lengthy leave, while Greece, Luxembourg and Britain have the lowest.

But even the lowest maternity pay in Europe is higher than in many other countries. Women in Australia and the US are not entitled to any statutory pay.

“I don’t think you could do better than Sweden. You have 96 weeks (maternity) leave and a year of that is at 80 per cent of salary,” said Gary Bowker, an employment law specialist with Mercer Human Resources Consulting which conducted the poll.

“In terms of least maternity leave, Singapore is low with only eight weeks’ leave and eight weeks’ pay, similarly Taiwan.”

The US, where 12 weeks of unpaid leave is available for women in companies with more than 50 employees, is also at the bottom of the world rankings for maternity leave, according to the survey.

“If I was a mother-to-be I would prefer to have my baby in Sweden, rather than the United States of America for maternity benefit reasons,” Bowker added in an interview.

The international poll compared the number of weeks of maternity leave and the minimum statutory pay rights available to employed women who wish to take maternity leave in 60 countries in Europe, Australasia and the Americas.

Six months of maternity leave for a woman earning £15,000 ($24,020) a year would be the equivalent of £1,250 in Greece and £2,458 in Britain, compared to £6,756 in Denmark and £7,500 in Norway.

”This is one area of employment law where wide discrepancies persist across the European Union. Allowances in some member states are more than four times those in other,” Bowker added.

Brazil, where a woman would receive the equivalent of 6,923 pounds over six months of maternity, offers some of the best benefits outside Europe.

In Australia, up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave is allowed. There is no statutory paid leave but women are given a government allowance of 285 pounds, according to the survey.

Singapore and Taiwan have among the poorest maternity benefits in Asia. Russia and Hungary have the least generous maternity leave in Eastern Europe. “Some countries offer long leave entitlements but low statutory pay, and women may not be able to afford to take extended leave,” Bowker said.

”The length of maternity leave often reflects the culture of the country and may be influenced by factors such as religion, social policies and changing demographics in the workplace,” he added. (Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Steve Addison; Reuters Messaging: patricia.reaney.reuters.com

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