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Slovenia vs Britain; maternity rights, childcare costs and the gender pay gap

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When it comes to the gender pay gap, there's a dramatic difference between the UK and Slovenia. The latter has the lowest disparity in Europe, measuring 3.2% in 2015. This compares to Britain's current gender pay gap of 17.5%, and an EU average of 16.4% .

So where are we going wrong?

Women's equality organisation The Fawcett Society says the motherhood penalty is a major contributing factor in widening the cavity between men and women's salaries at work. 

"Women are far more likely to work part-time than full-time due to childcare responsibilities. Part-time work is typically lower-skill and pays less well per hour than full-time work," they say. "On return to work, reduced opportunities for career progression may force women to take up less senior and lower paid roles."

It's no coincidence that Slovenia has the highest full-time employment rate of mothers of small children in Europe, as well as the smallest gender pay gap. This is fuelled by a relatively well-developed family policy, particularly when it comes to parental leave and pre-school childcare. 

Below, we take a snapshot look at how Slovenia's maternity rights and childcare schemes compare to the UK. What can we learn from our Slovenian neighbours to narrow the gap and make the workplace a more equal place for women in the UK? Read on to find out. 

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How many mothers are in work?

In 2012, 59% of mothers of children under six were employed in the UK. This is similar to the EU average of 59.1% and falls significantly below the 75.5 % of mothers of children under six employed in Slovenia - the highest level in the EU.

Almost all parents in Slovenia are employed full-time, even those with small children. Part-time work is rare among Slovenian women (just above 13.1 %), but very popular among British women, with 43.3% in part-time roles (compared to an EU average of 32.5%). 

The gender pay gap in Slovenia, measured at 3.2 % in 2015, is the lowest in the EU (the EU average was 16.2 % in 2011).

How much maternity leave are women entitled to?

Women in the UK are entitled to 364 days of maternity leave. Women in Slovenia are entitled to 105 working days of maternity leave (this becomes longer when you factor in non-working days). In addition, each parent has the right to parental leave, which lasts 130 days. The mother can transfer 100 days of parental leave to the father, while the father can transfer all 130 days of his parental leave to the mother.

What about maternity pay? 

In the UK, women are eligible for either Statutory Maternity Pay from their employer or Maternity Allowance from the state. Statutory Maternity Pay will make them eligible for 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first six weeks (42 days) and £139.58 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks (231 days). The amount received on Maternity Allowance depends on eligibility, with a maximum of £139.58 per week. 

In Slovenia, women receive 100% pay for all 105 working days of maternity leave. Maternity leave from work must commence 28 days before the anticipated date of birth, as specified by a gynaecologist.

How much paternity leave are fathers entitled to?

In the UK, fathers can choose to take either one week or two consecutive weeks’ leave. Statutory Paternity Pay for eligible employees is either £139.58 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

In Slovenia, fathers have the right to 90 working days of paternity leave, at 100% pay for 15 days. For the remaining 75 days, the government pays social security contributions based on the minimum wage.

Childcare provision

Pre-school childcare is a lot more accessible in Slovenia

What about shared maternity leave?

From 5 April this year, new regulations have also brought Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay into force in the UK. This can be used to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work, instead of taking it all in one go. The parents can choose how to split this. This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date. 

In Slovenia, paternity leave is already relatively generous (see above). In addition, one of the parents has a right to leave in order to look after or care for a child for a period of 260 days immediately upon expiry of maternity leave. The level of childcare allowance is determined on the basis of the average pay which the parent received in the preceding 12 months. However, the allowance may not exceed two-and-a-half times the gross average pay.

What's the childcare situation like?

Childcare is now so expensive in the UK that families are increasingly better off if one parent gives up work to look after their offspring, according to a major new report from the Family and Childcare Trust this year

It now costs around £115.45 on average to send a child aged under two to nursery for 25 hours a week in Britain, a total of £6,003 per year.  This is a 5.1% increase on last year. 

All three to four-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. This is usually taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. Some two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds can also get free early education and childcare.

In comparison, Slovenia has an integrated system of pre-school childcare for children from age one (following the end of statutory maternity leave) to age six (when compulsory schooling begins). Public pre-school institutions are founded and partly financed by local communities. They are also financed from parents' contributions (from 0 to 80%, depending on their income), from the national budget (for specific purposes like transport of pre-school children) and from donations and other sources.

Parents contribute on average one-third to the cost of running pre-school childcare services. Only 3.1% of children were enrolled in private preschool centres in 2011-2012.

Any other support in place for working mums?

The UK has set up a system of Sure Start Centres that give help and advice on child and family health, parenting, money, training and employment. Some centres also provide early learning and full day care for pre-school children. Many of the services are free. A number of childcare benefits and supported study schemes are also available, as well as a legal provision that employers must deal with requests for flexible working in a "reasonable manner"

In 2007, the Slovenian government introduced a certification scheme to encourage employers to apply family-friendly principles in the workplace.

The ‘Family Friendly Company’ certificate is awarded to companies that adopt at least three measures from a catalogue of work-family reconciliation measures, such as flexible working times, company childcare services, job sharing, adoption leave and part-time work. 

Slovenia also has a new law, the Parental and Family Benefit Act, that came into force last year. This extended the right to work part-time for parents with two children - meaning they can gain extra government benefits until their youngest child has reached the end of first grade at school (part-time workers with one child are eligible for additional support up until that child is three years old). The law also raised supplements to child benefits in single-parent families from 10% to 30%.


Slovenia

Slovenia

Slovenia: an overview

(Source: Republic of Slovenia Ministry of Labour and Equal Opportunities and slovenia.si)

  • The right to 105 working days of maternity leave at 100% pay
  • Maternity leave commences 28 days before the anticipated date of birth, as specified by a gynaecologist
  • The right to 90 working days of paternity leave at 100% pay for 15 days. For the remaining 75 days the government pays social security contributions based on the minimum wage
  • In addition, each parent has the right to parental leave, which lasts 130 days. The mother can transfer 100 days of parental leave to the father (30 cannot be transferred), while the father can transfer all 130 days of his parental leave to the mother
  • One of the parents has a right to leave in order to look after or care for a child for a period of 260 days immediately upon expiry of maternity leave. The level of childcare allowance is determined on the basis of the average pay which the beneficiary received in the preceding 12 months. However, the allowance may not exceed two-and-a-half times the gross average pay
  • The right to payment of social security contributions is held by a person who files an application for exercising the right to part-time working. 
  • The right to work part-time is held by one of the parents who is caring for and protecting a child up to three years of age. One of the parents who cares for and protects two children may exercise the right to part-time working up the age of six years of the younger child
  • One of the parents who leaves the labour market because of protection and care of four or more children has the right to payment of social security contributions based on the minimum wage, until the youngest child has reached ten years of age

London

London

UK: an overview

(Source: gov.uk and europa.eu)

  • Pregnant women have the right to 52 weeks (364 days) of maternity leave
  • During this time women may be eligible for either Statutory Maternity Pay (from their employer or Maternity Allowance from the state
  • They may be eligible Statutory Maternity Pay for 39 weeks (273 days) based on these conditions. This will make them eligible for 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first six weeks (42 days), £139.58 or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks (231 days)
  • Women who do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay may be entitled to Maternity Allowance, paid by the Benefits Agency, for up to 39 weeks (273 days). To qualify, they must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. The amount received depends on eligibility, up to a maximum of £139.58 per week. 
  • When it comes to paternity leave, employees can choose to take either one week or two consecutive weeks’ leave. Statutory Paternity Pay for eligible employees is either £139.58 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
  • From 5 April this year, new regulations have also brought Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay into force in the UK. This can be used to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work, instead of taking it all in one go. The parents can choose how to split this. This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date. 

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