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Self-employed workers and their spouses or life partners, where recognised in national law, will enjoy better social protection under new legislation endorsed by EU governments this week. The legislation was agreed with the European Parliament on May 18 and the Council of Ministers is now expected to formally adopt the legislation on June 24 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.

The new rules extend national social security provisions for the self-employed to their spouses working in the business, including those working on the family farm, in their own right. It also provides for a period of maternity leave to be granted to self-employed women/spouses in line with minimum EU standards. The choice of funding method will be a matter for each country to decide.

The purpose of the legislation is to improve the social protection rights of millions of women in the labour market and thereby boosting female entrepreneurship. At present, women represent only one in three entrepreneurs. It will also help spouses working in family businesses who face poverty due to the bankruptcy, divorce or death of their partners. It will also provide for older spouses working in family businesses the right to a pension in their own right.