After 5 months of trilogues on the EU worklife balance directive, the co-legislators have reached a provisional agreement. What is left of the original proposal of the European Commission? Should we view the glass as half empty or half full?
A piece of employment legislation, this directive is one of the deliverables of the European Pillar for Social Rights and part of the ‘New Start’ initiative to address the work-life balance challenges faced by working parents and carers. This initiative seeks to take into account the developments in society over the past decade to enable parents and other people with caring responsibilities to better balance their work and family lives and to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men.
Many existing European employment laws consolidate the rights of workers and fight poverty. This latest piece of legislation provides a mix of employment rights, measures to fight family and child poverty, and especially helps working parents and working carers to keep their jobs.
Glass Half Full
As a result of this political agreement, European families can count on the following:
European minimum standards of 10 days paternity leave around the birth of the child (paid at sick-leave level), 4 months of parental leave (with minimum 2 months non-transferable and paid, with payment to be determined by national governments) and 5 days/year of carers leave per worker (with payment to be decided by national governments).
Acknowledgement of family diversity in the 21st century with references to “equivalent second parent” in the legislation;
Recognition of the need for both universal measures for all families and specific measures for families in vulnerable situations;
Recommendations to governments to provide adequate levels of compensation for family leaves in order to allow men and women to take up leaves and minimize loss of income for families;
Awareness of their governments that measures for working carers need to be strengthened to account for demographic changes and emerging needs;
A commitment to close monitoring by the European Commission of the directive implementation which requires national governments to collect data on the take-up of leaves and flexible working arrangements.
Glass Half Empty
However, as a result of negotiations between the co-legislators, this directive will lead to little change in some countries in relation to the family-related leaves covered by the directive. Some countries will have to reach the European minimum standards, and therefore see real changes. While other countries with leave systems which are significantly more generous than the standards of the directive (best-performing countries) will be able to take from existing leaves in order to meet the minimum requirements of the directive.
Furthermore, we have a minimum European threshold on payment only for paternity leave, while for parental leave and carers leave decisions on payment are left to national governments. This is a missed opportunity to harmonise levels of welfare across the EU.
Finally, access to some leaves will be subject to a certain length of service with the employer, with one year of service before qualifying for parental leave and 6 months of service before qualifying for paternity leave.
Annemie Drieskens, COFACE Families Europe President: “The European Union showed leadership by agreeing this legislative initiative in order to kick-start national reforms to meet the emerging needs of families in a changing society and labour market. While COFACE expectations have not been fully met with this directive, we acknowledge that every step towards an improved paternity leave system, parental leave system allowing fathers and mothers to take time for their children, and a carers leave system will benefit the well-being of all family members. This directive is a step in the right direction. We now expect national governments to consolidate those social rights and move towards swift transposition. In doing so they must consider the possibility of upward reforms so that European families no longer have to choose between work or family”.
The EU institutions will now finalise the technical details of the agreement, and vote to ratify the agreement. COFACE Families Europe and its members will analyse the agreement in detail, and provide guidelines for transposition in the best interest of families, ensuring both a mix of universal measures and targeted measures for families in vulnerable situations.