Self-employed workers and their partners will enjoy better social protection – including the right to maternity leave for the first time – under new legislation endorsed by EU governments today.
The Directive on self-employed workers and assisting spouses improves the social protection rights of millions of women in the labour market and boosts female entrepreneurship. At present, women represent only one in three entrepreneurs.
"This new law makes real improvements to the rights of self-employed workers and their partners, in particular women," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship and Vice-President of the European Commission.
"It will help them to better balance work and family life and encourage more women to become entrepreneurs – which is good for the economy too," she said.
The legislation, agreed with the European Parliament on 18 May and endorsed today by EU Member States, considerably improves the protection of female self-employed workers and assisting spouses in case of maternity or motherhood. It will provide equivalent access to maternity leave as for employees, but on a voluntary basis.
They will have the right to social security coverage (such as pensions) on an equal basis as formal self-employed workers. This will help to provide a stronger social safety net and to stop women from falling into poverty, said the European Commission.
The Council of Ministers is now expected to formally adopt the legislation on 24 June 2010. EU countries will then have two years to introduce it into national law. Where justified by particular difficulties, they may have an additional period of two years to implement the provisions concerning assisting spouses.
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.