A proposal for a European directive on work-life balance for parents and caregivers is getting strong support from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which says it would benefit society socially and economically and encourage more women to enter the labor market. According to the ETUC, "the European economy, now getting back on its feet, needs measures to stimulate the inclusion of women in economic life and reduce the obstacles to their professional development."

Parental leave, sick pay changes

Compared to the old Directive on parental leave (2010/18/EU), the new text introduces minimum payment for parental leave, at the level of sick pay, and no longer allows the right to parental leave to be transferred between parents. These measures aim to encourage fathers to exercise their right to parental leave, which is still largely the preserve of mothers.

Irma Krysiak, a representative of the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs, confirmed that these two points were the main stumbling blocks. Krysiak referred to ‘cultural aspects’ when explaining the strong opposition from certain countries to the measure aimed at extending from one to four months the period during which the right to parental leave could not be transferred between fathers and mothers.

The Bulgarian Presidency of the European Union (EU) is one of the entities seeking a compromise, citing significant disparities among states in relation to certain provisions of the text.

There is considerable agreement upon...

Dalila Ghailani, a researcher in the European Social Observatory, has done a study of the national laws on work-life balance for parents comparing the national situations to the new provisions in the proposal for a directive.

“Paternity leave poses the fewest problems as 14 countries comply with the directive in full, with another seven countries complying partially,” Ghailani said. The directive provides for a minimum of 10 days’ leave for fathers, with payment at the level of sick pay at the very least.

As for disparities within the EU itself, Ghailani listed 11 measures contained in the directive and looked at the provisions of the laws of the 28 Member States. A group of nine countries (Germany, Austria, Cyprus, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia) were ‘lacking’ in at least five areas.

In order to take effect, the directive must be adopted by qualified majority, i.e. 55 % of the Member States representing 65 % of the EU population.