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MEPs back measures to improve parents’ work-life balance

Submitted by on 20 Sep 2018 – 18:00

Employment Committee MEPs recently approved paternity leave, non-transferable parental leave and measures to boost women’s chances in the labour market. Agnes Jongerius MEP and Maria Arena MEP write about their ambitious proposals of the updated Work-Life Balance Directive

The birth of a child is one of the most beautiful moments in a person’s life, and as a parent, you want to be there to enjoy those precious moments with your child, to see them grow up and to take care of them. You also want to be present in the life of your loved ones when they need you the most. In these moments, you wish for a system that does not oblige you to choose between your profession and your family. You wish for a system that enables you to balance your private responsibilities with your professional ones, and be fairly compensated.

Is it too good to be true? Employment Committee MEPs recently approved paternity leave, non-transferable parental leave and measures to boost women’s chances in the labour market. The directive is a progressive and ambitious proposal that enables parents to balance their work and private lives without having to choose one or the other. The proposal hopes to be a driver for gender promotion at work.

Under the new rules, each parent will have the right to take four months of individual parental leave that is fairly remunerated. Furthermore, working fathers will be entitled to take at least 10 working days of paid paternity leave around the birth of their child. Finally, carers can take a minimum of five paid working days per year to take care of relatives and friends. The proposal does not distinguish between biological, adoptive and LGBTI parents. Moreover, both parents and carers can request flexible working arrangements in order to better cope with their caring responsibilities.

It is clear that in Europe the unequal distribution of caring responsibilities accounts for considerable disparities between men and women in the labour market. The lack of effective possibilities for men and women to balance these responsibilities with their professional ones adds to the problem.

This discrepancy is further exacerbated by stereotypes about gender roles that require women to take care of children and family members and men to pursue careers and remain the ‘breadwinners’. These perceptions are not only outdated, but also unfair and economically detrimental to societies and economies. Valuable workforce and expertise remain unused and the potential of millions of women remains untapped. Every year, €370 billion are lost in the EU due to the gender employment gap.

Despite being equally qualified, European women face a pay gap and remain considerably underrepresented in the labour market. According to the European Commission, the overall employment rate of women is still 11.6% lower than that of men. Almost 32% of women, especially ones with children, work part time compared to 8% of men. The picture is even darker in full-time employment, where the gap between full-time working women and men goes beyond 25%.

Lastly, 20% of economically inactive women remain inactive due to caring responsibilities, compared with 2% of men. The United Nations report on human development suggests that women perform three times more unpaid work than men.

The existing legal framework does not support the equal division of caring responsibilities. Leave provision in member states varies significantly and the EU legislation only governs maternity and parental leave. This new directive will set minimum standards at EU level which either preserve or extend existing rights, benefiting citizens, businesses and member states alike.

Working parents’ and carers’ conditions will be improved, leading to a higher employment rate for women, greater participation of fathers in family life and a reduction of the gender pay gap. In the same vein, a larger talent pool will become available for businesses to choose from, while a reduction in unemployment rates and an increase in tax incomes will support public finances to allow the implementation of new collective services such as childcare. Overall, greater labour supply will boost competitiveness and address demographic challenges by making full use of our human capital.

Therefore, this proposal is a question of social justice and fairness as much as it is an economic imperative. It is time for change and convergence at the EU level for the benefit of all EU citizens. Only if we invest in human capital can the EU remain competitive on the global scene. Only if we are bold and ambitious can we deliver on our domestic and international commitments to social justice. It is vital that we achieve a common European approach without further delay