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February 05, 2003
Wide Variations in Maternity Benefits
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ernity benefits vary widely around the world, even among countries in which the benefits are mandatory, according to an analysis conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

While most countries throughout Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Americas provide statutory maternity pay to varying degrees, maternity pay is not mandatory in the US, Mercer found.

Greece, Luxembourg, and the UK have the lowest level of statutory maternity pay in the European Union (EU), while Denmark, Italy, and Sweden have the most generous allowances. These comparisons are based on statutory pay over six months of leave.

For a woman earning $25,000 a year, total pay accumulated after six months' maternity leave would be just $2,083 in Greece, $2,883 in Luxembourg, and $4,009 in the UK. Yet the entitlements in Denmark, Italy, and Sweden would be as much as $10,556, $10,096, and $10,000, respectively.

"In the US, paid maternity leave is usually provided as part of an employer-sponsored disability benefits program, such as short-term disability or sick leave benefits," says Mercer consultant Anne Reustle. "In addition, women are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)."

Outside the EU, the provider of the highest level of benefits is Norway, where an employee earning the equivalent of $25,000 a year would receive $12,500 after six months' leave.

In Eastern Europe, the level of maternity pay again varies widely. The Czech Republic and Russia provide the lowest level of benefits (the equivalent of $1,762 and $2,000, respectively, using the case study example), while Hungary and Poland offer more than the EU average ($8,077 and $7,692, respectively).

Globally, maternity benefits appear to be lower outside Europe, with the exception of Brazil, where an individual earning the equivalent of $25,000 would receive $11,538. In Australia, women do not receive any statutory maternity benefits, although they are given a government allowance of $448. Asian countries such as Singapore and Taiwan also have low levels of maternity pay - the equivalent of $3,846 in both countries.

"Although women in the US don't receive mandated paid-time-off maternity benefits, some changes are beginning to occur at the state level," Ms. Reustle says. "For instance, last year California passed legislation that mandates paid family and medical leave for six weeks."

Duration of statutory maternity leave

There are vast differences in the total number of weeks of statutory maternity leave both within Europe and globally.

In the EU, Sweden offers the most leave, at 96 weeks. Denmark, Italy, Finland, and the UK also have generous provisions, where women are entitled to up to 50, 47, 44, and 40 weeks' leave respectively. In contrast, German women are only entitled to 14 weeks' leave - a fraction of the Swedish allowance. Similarly, provision in Belgium is low, at 15 weeks.

Maternity leave allowance in the US is also low, at just 12 weeks. According to Ms. Reustle, there is not always a correlation between the length of maternity leave and the benefit levels provided. Additionally, 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.

Asian countries provide the least number of weeks' statutory maternity leave. Women in Singapore and Taiwan are entitled to just 8 weeks, and in Hong Kong, 10 weeks. In contrast, women in Australia and New Zealand are entitled to take up to 52 weeks' leave, while in Canada the entitlement is 50 weeks.

In Eastern Europe, the most generous maternity leave allowance is in the Czech Republic (28 weeks), followed by Poland (26 weeks) and Hungary (24 weeks). Russia has the least, at 20 weeks.

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