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Reconciliation between work and private life

  •  Women still spend 26 hours a week in unpaid work, against nine hours for men (European Working Conditions Survey 2010). In couples with young children, both employed women and men increase the time they spend on unpaid work, but while men increase it to about 17 hours per week, women do so to nearly 40 hours per week (Eurofound 2013).
  • Mothers are the main users of leave entitlement. For example in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland and Poland the proportions of fathers who take parental leave is less than 3 %.
  • Mothers are 8 times more likely to work part time than fathers (Eurostat 2013).
  • Availability of flexible working arrangements is uneven across the EU. For instance more than 50% of workers in Romania and in Malta do not have any kind of possibility to vary start and/or stop of their working day for family reason (Eurostat 2010).
  • While a majority of Member States made progress towards the Barcelona targetspdf Choose translations of the previous link  on childcare provision since 2005, only nine Member States met the objective of 33% coverage rate for children under three years of age in 2013 and eleven met the objective of 90% coverage rate as regards children between three years old and the mandatory school age. (EU-SILC 2013).
  • Women are more likely than men to assume care responsibilities for elderly family members with long-term care needs (17% against 10%) and are thus far more likely to reduce their working hours (European Quality of Life Survey 2011).
  • Tax benefit systems in some countries continue to discourage women to take up work or work more, in particular by providing disincentives for second earners to work full-time.

Work-life ballance as a part of the European Pillar for Social Rights

One of the deliverables of the European Pillar for Social Rights is the 'New Start' initiative to address the work-life balance challenges faced by working parents and carers. After the withdrawal of the Maternity Leave Directive , the Commission has decided to take a broader approach in order to address women's underrepresentation in the labour market.

This new initiative takes into account the developments in society over the past decade in order 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.

It is based on the results of the public consultation and two-stage social partner consultations and the analysis of the accompanying impact assessment. The Communication: An initiative to support Work-Life Balance for Working Parents and Carers sets out a comprehensive package of complementary legal and policy measures , which will reinforce each other.

Legislative measures

The initiative aims at modernising the existing EU legal framework in the area of family-related leaves and flexible working arrangements. The proposal for a Directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers includes:

  • The introduction of paternity leave. Fathers/second parents will be able to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child, compensated at least at the level of sick pay.
  • The strengthening of parental leave by making the 4 months period compensated at least at sick pay level and non-transferable from a parent to another. Parents will also have the right to request to take leave in a flexible way (part-time or in a piecemeal way) and the age of the child up to which parents can take leave will be increased from 8 to 12 years old.
  • The introduction of carers' leave for workers caring for seriously ill or dependent relatives. Working carers will be able to take 5 days per year, compensated at least at sick pay level.
  • The extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements (reduced working hours, flexible working hours and flexibility in place of work) to all working parents of children up to 12 and carers with dependent relatives.

Non-legislative measures

In order to complement the legislative proposal, the initiative contains a set of non-legislative measures to support Member States in achieving our common goals. These include:

  • ensuring protection against discrimination and dismissal for parents (including pregnant women and workers coming back from a leave) and carers;
  • encouraging a gender-balanced use of family-related leaves and flexible working arrangements;
  • making better use of European funds to improve long-term and childcare services;
  • removing economic disincentives for second earners which prevent women from accessing the labour market or working full-time.

It is expected that this initiative will reap benefits for individuals, companies and the wider society.

Parents and carers will profit from more work-life balance and the foreseen increase in women employment, their higher earnings and career progression will positively impact their and their families' economic prosperity, social inclusion and health.

Companies will benefit from a wider talent pool and a more motivated and productive labour force, as well as less absenteeism. The rise in female employment will also contribute in addressing the challenge of demographic ageing and ensuring Member States' financial stability .

The EU promotes a work-life balance policy mix: current instruments

Throughout the years, the EU has developed a global approach promoting a “work-life balance policy mix” to ease the constraints faced by parents. This policy mix comprises affordable and quality care services and infrastructure for children and for other dependents; arrangements for adequate family-related leave; flexible work arrangements for both women and men; and neutral tax and benefits systems which make (full-time) work pay for both parents. These measures need to be adapted throughout life, when children are very young, when they go to school, and when other dependent or elderly relatives need care. More partnerships between women and men in the sharing of family responsibilities and unpaid care work should be encouraged.

The Commission supports the development of reconciliation policies in several ways, according to its competences and using all instruments at its disposal:

  • EU legislation provides individual rights and supports women’s participation in the labour market and work-(family) life-balance for women and men.
  • Country Specific Recommendations are made in the framework of the Europe 2020 Strategy to Member States lagging behind;
  • Financial means, in particular the Structural Funds, and the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme, to support childcare infrastructure and projects;
  • Monitoring of Member States' performances in the field of childcare facilities towards the Barcelona targetspdf Choose translations of the previous link ;
  • Building of knowledge on reconciliation issues, through the improvement of data collection and specific studies; and
  • The organisations of awareness raising events and exchanges of good practices between Member States on reconciliation policies.