Work-life balance for parents and carers: significant progress yet to be made  
Work-life balance for parents and carers: significant progress yet to be made

Nathalie Sarrabezolles, President of the Finistère department (France), regrets the absence of local and regional authorities in the mechanism proposed at European level

Following the European Commission's proposals to introduce new minimum standards at European level for paternity leave, parental leave and carers' leave, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) welcomes the transition to a new working culture that recognises the economic and social benefits of a better work-life balance. Nevertheless, the EU’s assembly of local and regional representatives regrets the absence of any reference to the role played by local and regional authorities in this field and recommends that these authorities should be fully involved in the implementation of the proposed scheme. The CoR also considers the lack of proposals on strengthening the right to maternity leave to be a missed opportunity.

Along with the main principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, in April this year the European Commission proposed a series of measures aimed at modernising the legal framework on work-life balance. The Commission is proposing common minimum standards, either new or more stringent, for parental leave, paternity leave and leave for carers (i.e. workers who provide personal care or support for sick or dependent relatives). The proposed measures include: the widespread availability of at least ten days of paternity leave; the extension of parental leave to four months; the introduction of an entitlement to five days' carer's leave per year; and the right for parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements.

The CoR supports these proposals to strengthen the EU's social dimension and enhance Member States' upward convergence. In its report adopted on 30 November, it emphasises that the benefits of these measures would be shared by women, families and society as a whole, not only in terms of equality between women and men but also with regard to businesses (e.g. reduction of absenteeism) and economic prosperity.

"In France, 80% of family carers are women who devote a large part of their lives to caring for children, elderly people and people with disabilities. This has a real impact on the career development of these women, who are more likely to work part-time because of their family responsibilities. This exacerbates the pay gap between women and men, which is as high as 28% in some Member States, and leads to a pension gap of 40% on average in the EU, increasing the risk of poverty and social exclusion for women, and particularly for older women. It is therefore clear that a better work-life balance contributes both to gender equality and to the sustainability of public finances," said the rapporteur,Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES).

The Committee deplores the Commission's silence on the role played by local and regional authorities, given their competences in matters that affect daily family life, such as childcare, care for the elderly and people with disabilities, education, social services and employment. It insists that local and regional authorities, due to their proximity to citizens, local employers and businesses, should be fully involved in the implementation of the proposed new arrangements. It also calls for the strengthening of the European Social Fund's capacity to operate in the areas of poverty, deprivation, social inclusion and employability.

Moreover, the Committee is disappointed by the lack of proposals aimed at strengthening maternity rights, regarding, for example, protection against dismissal over an extended period of time and discrimination at work. It sees this as a missed opportunity, particularly given the purpose of the proposed directive, which is to replace the directive on maternity leave that was withdrawn in 2015 due to a lack of agreement between the Member States.

The CoR members welcome the introduction of paternity leave and the proposal to grant leave without prejudice to marital or family status. The CoR members welcome the introduction of paternity leave and the proposal to grant leave without prejudice to marital or family status. However, they call on the Commission to take changes to family structures more fully into account in its definition of paternity. This is why the opinion suggests the possibility of recognising the right to paternity leave not only for fathers but also for "persons legally recognised as such".

Finally, the Committee points out that there is no mention of the Barcelona objectives , which aim to increase women's activity rates and, in 2002, set a target in which childcare should be provided in the EU for at least 90% of children aged between three years and the mandatory school age and for 33% of all children under the age of three. These objectives have not been met by all Member States, and the Committee therefore calls for further efforts to be made to implement them;

Further information:

· Photo gallery of the plenary session

 

Contact:
Nathalie Vandelle
Tel. +32 2 282 24 99
nathalie.vandelle@cor.europa.eu