When the European Commission presented the European Pillar of Social Rights at the end of April 2017, the Work-Life Balance Directive was back then the only legislative measure in an otherwise very non-committal package. This week, the European Parliament’s Employment Committee held a public hearing on the Directive proposal, which is to provide legal certainty for parents and carers.
In concrete terms, the Directive is to ensure a greater participation of fathers in childcare as well as positive effects for women in the labour market. The Proposal of the Commission provides for a legal right for fathers to have a “dad month” of at least ten days as well as the right to leave of at least four months, which cannot be transferred to the partner. Apart from that, it shall be ensured that the replacement income is at least as high as the sick pay in the respective country. For the first time, the Directive also provides for granting five days leave to carers if a direct relative falls ill. In addition, the proposal grants parents of children up to the age of twelve and the caring relatives the right to apply for flexible working arrangements.
As the Council has shown a fair bit of restraint with regard to the length of the parental leave and the age of the children, up to which a claim should be possible, the Committees on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEM) and Employment (EMPL) in the European Parliament are for the first time dealing with the “Work-Life Balance” Directive. In both Committees almost all factions reacted very positively to the Directive proposal: due to the fact, that women across Europe are underrepresented in the labour market and that paid and unpaid work, childcare and care of dependant relatives are distributed very unevenly between the genders, MEPs of both Committees recognise the urgency to introduce legal provisions to increase men's participation throughout Europe, thereby contributing to a change of mentality. In order to achieve this goal - MEPs and experts at the Hearing agreed - it is indispensable to ensure that a certain part of the parental leave is non-transferrable. Furthermore, it is necessary that a certain amount of compensation (continued pay) is ensured – as for many families it is just not possible to forego the father’s salary. However, the fact that single parents cannot make use of the months reserved for the second parent was viewed with a large amount of criticism.
Experts told the Hearing that in order to make paternity leave more attractive, it would be vital to ensure a well-constructed dismissal protection, a discrimination ban as well as the guarantee that the carers could return to their previous job. In particular these aspects were strongly criticised by Arnold der Boer, representative of small to medium-sized enterprises. The Directive had to reliably limit the burden for SMEs. In particular the planned flexible working arrangements would pose unexpected difficulties for such firms.
Going beyond the purely operational component, the European Economic and Social Committee, which was present at the Hearing, emphasised that significantly higher investments in the social infrastructure would be required in future – for this purpose, the European Structural Funds should provide more resources.
Apart from that, the S&D representatives pointed out that an important aspect beyond concrete men’s participation would lie in the social convergence and equality of genders in the labour market. The unequal distribution of paid and unpaid work would cost European economies up to 370 billion Euros – the states in form of tax revenue and the women concerned not only in respect of earned income but also of future pensions.
The Chamber of Labour too welcomes the Directive proposal in its position paper, for example the planned paid paternity leave. However, ten working days for the birth of a child are too short to achieve the goal intended by the Proposal with regard to increase fathers’ participation. The fact that an individual claim for paid parental leave shall be created for both parents thereby providing more incentives for fathers’ participation, must also be seen as positive. However, at the same time one has to consider that the proposal does not take the situation of single parents into account. Finally, the AK in its position paper also welcomes the proposed flexible working time regulations for parents (at least up to the child’s 12th birthday) and for carers as well as the right to return to the original job. However, a possibility for employers to opt out is has been criticised.