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Self-employed workers to gain maternity and pension benefits under new EU law
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04/08/2010 00:00:00

Self-employed workers and their partners will enjoy better social protection, including for the first time the right to maternity leave, under new EU legislation which enters into force today.

The Directive on self-employed workers and assisting spouses ( Directive 2010/41/EU repeals and replaces an earlier law Directive 86/613/EEC) will considerably improve the social protection rights of millions of women in the labour market and strengthen female entrepreneurship at a time when only one in three entrepreneurs is a woman.

"With the entry into force of this new law, Europe takes an important step forward in terms of increasing social protection and providing equal economic and social rights for self-employed men and women, and their partners," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship and Vice-President of the European Commission.

Mrs Reding added:  "The new European law ensures full equality in practice between men and women in working life, promoting female entrepreneurship and allowing self-employed women to enjoy better social security protection."

    Key provisions:

    Self-employed women, assisting spouses and life partners of self-employed workers, are granted a sufficient maternity allowance and a leave period of at least 14 weeks should they choose to take it.  This is the first time a maternity allowance has been granted to self-employed workers at an EU level.

    Assistant spouses and life partners of self-employed workers will have the right to social security coverage (ie such as pensions) on an equal basis as formal self-employed workers, if the member state offers such protection.  This will help provide a stronger social safety net and prevent women from falling into poverty.

    Member states may decide whether the maternity allowance and social protection rights are granted on a mandatory or voluntary basis, ie upon request.

    Member states have two years to introduce the legislation into their national laws, ie by 5 August 2012.  Only if there are particular difficulties could this period be extended for another two years to implement assisting spouses provisions.


    The European Parliament approved the legislation on 18 May 2010 and EU member states endorsed it on 7 June ( IP/10/699).

    Self-employment is a significant – albeit minority – form of employment in Europe, representing around 16% of the active population.

    Around 11% of self-employed workers in Europe rely on the help of spouses and partners who work on an informal basis in small family businesses, such as a farm or a local doctor's practice. These assisting spouses are traditionally completely dependent on their self-employed partner. As such, they are at a high risk of poverty in the event of divorce, their partner’s death or bankruptcy.

    As far as employees are concerned, the EU adopted a new Directive improving the right to parental leave ( IP/09/1854) in November 2009 and the Commission's proposal for a revised Directive on maternity leave is currently in its first reading with the European Parliament ( IP/08/1450).

    Life partners must be recognised under national law in order to fall under the scope of the Directive.

    Further information

    Directive on equal treatment between self-employed men and women:

    EU gender equality policy and legislation:

    Women and entrepreneurship:


    For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.

    Last update: 31/10/2010  |Top