Many Czech mums have serious problem returning to work after maternity leave

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

Statistics reveal that women who go on maternity leave find it hard to return to their former jobs and face what labour market experts call hidden forms of discrimination. Despite government incentives many Czech firms avoid employing young mothers and their former employers often refuse to grant them part-time jobs. Consequently the Czech Republic has one of the highest unemployment rates of mothers in Europe.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
Having a baby can be a serious setback for a woman’s career in the Czech Republic. Employers are bound to give them a job in the company on their return from maternity leave but, according to the law, it need not be the position they held previously and they are not obliged to agree to part-time work. Statistics show that only around 50 percent of mothers who go on maternity leave return to their old work-place. Many look for part-time employment in order to have more spare time for their children and part-time employment is hard to come by. While in other European states the number of people who work part-time or have flexible hours is on the increase –ranging from 25% in Austria and Sweden to 49 % percent in the Netherlands – in the Czech Republic only 5.5 % of people enjoy this luxury.

While employers have no right to ask a woman seeking work about the number of children she has, their age or family circumstances, many break the rules fearing to take on someone who may request vast amounts of sick leave to care for her children. Consequently, the Czech Republic has one of the highest unemployment rates of mothers in the EU. Women looking to find work after maternity leave have a hard time on the job market and often spend a year or more seeking work or end up taking work they are overqualified for. Many have found that in order to meet their new needs they have set up their own business in whatever field they happen to be good at.

The difficulties of returning to work has also set a new trend with mums linking up their pregnancies and spending five or six years on maternity leave. Mothers who have gone on maternity leave in the past decade spent twice as long away from work than mothers who went on maternity leave in the 1980s.

The ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has been trying to fight this trend by offering employers incentives to employ mothers who have been on maternity leave – including a financial bonus of up to 12 thousand crowns annually for giving them part-time employment or allowing flexible work hours. The new Labour and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová Tominová is likewise preparing a proposed draft amendment on social insurance cuts relating to positions held by employed mums. And, last but not least, the minister is encouraging parents to split the paternal leave as best suits them. The Czech Republic now offers up to four years of parental leave to "either or both" parents – although only one of them receives the benefit. While sharing the parental leave would help mums keep their position on the job market it is not always do-able – for one, because of the traditional split of roles in the family and secondly because men make more on average than women.