On June 21st of June the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council reached a general approach on the Work-Life Balance Directive, proposed more than one year ago by the European Commission. This implies that there is an agreement between the Member States and that the legal proceedings can continue.
The Maternity Leave Directive dates back to 1992 (92/85/EEC) and establishes a minimum of 14 consecutive weeks of leave, including two mandatory weeks before or following the delivery. In 2008, the Commission tried to amend the directive with a proposal (2008/0193/COD) to extend the leave to 18 weeks. In that context, the European Parliament proposed to extend the length of maternity leave to 20 weeks and to add a minimum of two weeks of non-transferable paternity leave. Unfortunately, the Council did not reach a common position on that occasion. After seven years of standstill, the European Commission decided to withdraw the proposal in 2015.
On April 26th 2017 the European Commission put forward a new proposal for a directive on work-life balance. The main elements of the proposal of the European Commission are:
- Paternity Leave - At least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child. Leave will be compensated at least at the level of sick pay.
- Parental Leave - Four months of parental leave per parent (non-transferable) that can be taken in flexible form (full-time or part-time) until the child is 12. Parental leave will be compensated at least at the level of sick pay.
- Carers’ Leave - All workers will have the right to 5 days of carers’ leave per year to take care of seriously ill or dependent relatives. These days will be compensated at least at the level of sick pay.
- Flexible Working Arrangements - Both women and men with a child under 12 and carers will be able to request for reduced and flexible working hours.
Paola Panzeri, Senior Adviser at COFACE Families Europe, after the EPSCO meeting of June 21st, has released a meticulous "Assessment of the Council Position on the EU Work-Life Balance Directive" where she underlines the main changes the Council has introduced:
- Definitions - Although the Council has amended the wording of the directive, aligning it to the text of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities it has kept the eligibility for the rights listed in the directive extremely limited.
- Paternity Leave: Council has eliminated any reference to minimum remuneration and minimum duration for the paternity leave, thus undermining significantly the proposal by the European Commission.
- Parental Leave: the Council has reduced the number of non-transferable months to 2 months (only 1,5 of which will be paid).
- Carers’ Leave: the Council’s position maintains the reference to a carers’ leave scheme but has deleted all mandatory features, therefore Member States will be able to introduce any type of mechanism, without any harmonization or minimum safeguards for carers. Flexible Working Arrangements - the Council did not amend the key points concerning flexible working arrangements.
Even if the Council has agreed to its negotiating position, which is a good sign for European citizens, Members States still refuse to introduce meaningful measures, in order to modify their national legislation as little as possible. It is also important to point out that some countries such as the United Kingdom, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and Ireland have voted against the general approach.
The European Parliament still has to express its position (the vote will take place most likely in July), after which interinstitutional negotiations will begin. It will be the time in which European citizens will see if it will be possible or not for the European Union to make a real step forward towards a more social Europe.
Leave and flexible work for parents and carers: Council agrees general approach on the draft directive on work-life balance
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (Social policy and health)