EU - Commission consultation for better work-life balance

The Commission has adopted the second stage consultation with workers' and
employers' representatives on how to achieve a better balance between work,
private and family life. Invited to express their opinions on the need for
Community action on this issue last October, thirteen of the European social
partners have sent contributions. All have acknowledged the importance of
issues such as accessible care facilities for children and dependants, the need
for men genuinely to take up reconciliation measures, equal pay, flexible
working hours and the possible updating of existing legislation related to
reconciliation. Although views differ on what needs to be done and at what
level, the majority of the social partners consider that further action is
needed in this area.

Vladimír Spidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal
Opportunities underlined: "Statistics show that the employment rate gap between
women with children and those without is as high as 14.2%. At the same time,
companies with experience in parental leave report very few men availing of
leave. This shows too many men and women in the EU still have to make difficult
choices between family life and a successful career. I believe we need to
create the right conditions for people to do both and we cannot achieve this
without the full support of the social partners".

Clearly, views on how to proceed differ. Some of the social partner
organisations believe that action should be taken at all levels, including EU
level (mainly workers' representatives), while other organisations argue that
action is only required at national, sectoral, regional and/or company level
(mostly employers' organisations). Situations between Member States also vary
greatly, which is why today's consultation document highlights that progress on
different areas ­ both non-legislative and legislative ­ will be vital if
Europeans are to achieve a better work, private and family life. In terms of
policy measures, the document calls on the social partners to provide their
views on how best to:

  • increase the availability, affordability, accessibility and quality of

  • reinforce the exchange of good practices,

  • encourage men to avail themselves of measures aimed at reconciliation

  • develop and promote innovative, adaptable and flexible work arrangements.

The consultation document also highlights the role of action at Community level
in improving existing legislation in this area. For example, new forms of leave
like paternity leave, leave to care for dependent family members and adoption
leave could all help meet the needs of workers in balancing work, private and
family life. This is especially relevant in today's changing labour market with
more, older workers and more women in work. For these reasons, the document
identifies certain areas where the Pregnant Workers Directive (92/85/EEC) could
be improved, namely on the duration of leave, the level of payment and the
protection of women returning from maternity leave to work. It also identifies
six areas where provisions for parental leave could be improved, providing
suggestions for action on:

  • incentives for fathers to take parental leave;

  • employment rights and prohibiting discrimination (making sure workers
    availing of parental leave do not encounter less favourable working

  • duration of parental leave;

  • flexibility in relation to the taking of leave (the possibility to take leave
    in a piecemeal way);

  • the age-bracket of the child for which parental leave can be taken
    (increasing the age limit to cover the entire primary school cycle);
  • payment during parental leave (linking payment on parental leave to a
    workers' salary).

The next steps will be for the social partners to provide the Commission with
their opinion or, where appropriate, a recommendation on proposals for new
types of leave and improvements to maternity protection. The social partners
must also notify the Commission of any intention to start the negotiation
process on new types of leave and improvements to maternity protection on the
basis of today's proposals. In addition, the Commission has asked the social
partners to assess the provisions of the framework agreement on parental leave,
with a view to its review, and to report on progress by March 2008. Once the
Commission receives the European social partners' position, it will decide
whether a legislative proposal is necessary. Any future proposal will be
subject to a detailed impact assessment of its costs and benefits.

More information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work