Members of the SEDEC commission adopted by 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 communication and proposal for a directive, which set new or higher minimum standards for parental, paternity and carers' leave in order to increase women's participation on the labour market.
"Women are much more likely to assume the role of unpaid carers because of cultural beliefs and norms, which impacts upon their participation in the labour market; this is why we urgently need a new work culture that recognises the shared benefits of a better work-life balance", pointed out the rapporteur in her introductory remarks, welcoming the European Commission's proposals.
"Better work-life balance is a question not only of fairness, gender equality and optimal allocation of skills, but also of countries' fiscal sustainability and of helping to achieve growth and employment priorities", she said.
"The proposed combination of legislative and non-legislative measures must ensure a bottom-up convergence in the EU, which the legislation in force has not done so far, but retain some flexibility", underlined Nathalie Sarrabezolles, insisting that flexible working arrangements should not become synonymous with low wages and reduced prospects of advancement tor women.
The draft opinion welcomes the 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 leave of 5 days per year in case of sickness of a direct relative.
The rapporteur highlights the role of local and regional authorities, which is completely overlooked in the Commission proposal, in the delivery of services such as childcare, care for the elderly and the disabled, education, or employment services. She regrets the lack of references 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 and proposes the collection of data on working time including a breakdown by sex and age in order to obtain information on inter-sectoral discrimination. Furthermore, she regrets the lack of proposals to strengthen maternity rightsconsidering this to be a missed opportunity, given that the current directive is meant to replace the maternity leave directive withdrawn in 2015.
Through a series of amendments introduced by the rapporteur herself and other PES members, all of which were adopted, the draft opinion asks, inter alia, the European Commission, to acknowledge the right of workers to disconnect, to enlarge the scope of the Directive to include the self-employed and to fully address changing family structures in the definition of key terms such as "relatives" and "parents". This last point was the subject of an animated discussion, revealing strong divergences over same-sex parents.