Europe, already light-years ahead of the United States in providing maternity benefits, is about to take another giant step.
The European Parliament is working on legislation that would guarantee women at least 14 weeks of maternity leave with full pay and the assurance that their jobs will be waiting for them when they return.
Because all 12 member countries already have laws providing some maternity leave, most of which meet or exceed these provisions, passage is considered a certainty. The law would become binding on member nations in 1992.
French women already have 16 weeks' maternity leave at full pay; German women have 14 weeks at full pay, and Danish women have 28 weeks at 90 percent pay. Sweden gives new mothers 12 weeks at 90 percent pay and provides paternity leave and child care leave.
The European Parliament legislation would have the greatest impact on Britain, where by law women are given six weeks of leave paid at 90 percent salary and another 12 weeks paid at the flat rate of $74 per week. However, there is not a universal guarantee of job reinstatement.
Even the weakest nations in the European community have better benefits than the United States, where it has been impossible to get a federal law guaranteeing even unpaid leave.
Subsidized child care, child care leaves, subsidies to new mothers, paternity leave and health care benefits are common in Europe and make it possible for mothers to choose to remain at home or to stay in the job market.
Only 30 states in the United States insist that women be granted unpaid maternity leave, ranging from six weeks to one year. But not all guarantee job reinstatement. The Family Leave Bill, vetoed this year by President Bush, would have established unpaid maternity leave and job protection.
Bush argued that the law would be an unwarranted intrusion of government into business affairs. He expressed confidence that businesses would address the problem independently. Some have, but millions of women remain unprotected.
Child care, at least, has attracted the attention of business. Some corporations are getting into it in a big way. The New York Times reported recently that IBM Corp. will spend $3 million next year to build five child care centers near its offices and plants around the country. The company also will put out another $500,000 to improve existing day care centers and recruit and train people to care for children in their homes.
According to the Times' report, IBM will contract with companies specializing in child care to operate the facilities, which will be located near IBM offices in North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland and Texas. Fees at the centers, open to the public as well as IBM employees, are expected to be lower than average because of the company's contribution to construction.
IBM told the Times that the number of men it employs has declined by 20 percent during the past 30 years, while the number of its female employees has tripled. Those statistics, coupled with the lack of adequate day care in the nation, prompted the company to expand its commitment to child care beyond its current referral systems for employees.
Noting that IBM will collaborate with several other large companies in some of its building projects, the Times reports a growing trend among businesses to get more involved in employees' child care concerns.
Everywoman Opportunity Center and Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) will provide free training for persons wanting jobs as nurses' aides or orderlies, beginning next month.
Classes will be held from Jan. 14 through March 14 in Potter Road Occupational Center and in an area skilled nursing facility. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalency. A test, interview and references are required before admission. Interviews will be held at the Everywoman Center on Main Street on Jan. 7. Call 847-1120.
Training in automotive services, bookkeeping, carpentry, electricity, keyboarding, welding and word processing also will be offered, with registration at Catholic Charities in Lackawanna.
A conference on women meeting the challenges of change will be conducted by the Small Business Survival Training Program at Niagara County Community College, Jan. 26 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the college. Call the college's Industrial Training Center in Lockport, 433-6524.
The Buffalo chapter of the National Organization for Women is seeking nominations for its annual Women Helping Women Awards, which will be presented at a dinner in February. Women who have enlightened, enriched or benefited other women and an organization that has made an important contribution to women will be honored. Nominations will be accepted by Buffalo NOW, 3380 Sheridan Drive, No. 412, Buffalo, N.Y. 14226, until Jan. 7.