30 November 2017
Better work-life balance contributes decisively to gender equality and countries' fiscal sustainability

Better work-life balance contributes decisively to gender equality and countries' fiscal sustainability

Plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions

CoR members adopted with an overwhelming majority the draft opinion of the President of Finistère Departmental Council (PES, France) on "Work-life balance of parents and carers".  The CoR opinion responds to a European Commission legislative proposal setting new or higher minimum standards for parental, paternity and carers' leave in order to increase women's participation on the labour market.

The European Commission proposes a new right for fathers to take at least 10 working days off around the birth of a child, the extension of the existing right to 4 months' parental leave to be taken for children up to 12 years of age (compared to the current guideline limited to children up the age of 8 years), the transformation of parental leave into an individual right for mothers and fathers without the possibility to transfer the 4 months to the other parent (which is a strong incentive for men to also make use of this leave) and the introduction of a carer's leaveof 5 days per year in case of sickness of a direct relative. 

The rapporteur welcomes the proposed common minimum standards for work-life balance policies, arguing that these will encourage Me​​​mber States’ upward convergence and reminding their particular relevance in the context of free movement of workers and the freedom of providing services in the EU Internal Market. "Work-life balance policies, including family leave, increase employment rates of women and therefore, combat women's income and pension gaps", pointed out the rapporteur, underlining that the proposed measures   can also contribute to higher fertility rates, leading to greater economic benefits for all. 

The rapporteur proposes a series of legislative amendments to the European Commission proposals and asks for: a better consideration of the role of local and regional authorities, which is not acknowledged in the Commission proposal; the need to refer to the 2002 Barcelona targets, set to increase the availability of high quality, affordable childcare facilities for young children from birth to compulsory school age; the need to reflect developments in family structures in the definition of fatherhood; the recognition of the right of workers to disconnect during parental leave; and last but not least, the need to enlarge the scope of the Directive to include the self-employed in order to also cover concealed employment relationships and economically dependent jobs (bogus self-employment).

Moreover, the draft opinion points out to the particular challenges facing single parentsin terms of work-life balance and calls on Member States and the social partners to take this into consideration when offering them flexible working time models, providing also for vocational training compatible with their family responsibilities. It also calls for the collection of data on working time including a breakdown by sex and age in order to obtain information on inter-sectoral discrimination. Furthermore, the opinion regrets thelack of proposals to strengthen maternity rights considering this to be a missed opportunity, given that the current directive is meant to replace the maternity leave directive withdrawn in 2015.