On September 13th the Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the resolution “Creating labour market conditions favourable for work-life balance”, a clear political commitment of the European Parliament to strengthen work-life balance opportunities for European women and men.
The current situation in Europe
The situation across Europe is worrisome. The loss of GDP in the European labour market due to the gender gap is estimated at 10%; the persistence of gender employment gaps costs the EU approximately 370 billion euros per year, and 3.3 million European citizens aged 15 to 34 had to give up full-time work due to lack of care services for their children or other relatives last but not least birth rates have dropped .
The unfavourable work-life balance is particularly alarming for women. Nowadays, women are better qualified than ever before, and obtain better results than men in terms of educational attainment. Yet they are frequently overqualified for the jobs they do and are underrepresented in the labour market (only 63,5% are employed). The main factors behind this unfavourable situation are low pays (16,5% lower), an overall tendency to seek for part-time occupations, and the interruptions they take more often than man throughout their careers in order to care for children and other dependents. These factors contribute not only to the risk of poverty and social discrimination but also to a gender pension gap, which reaches 40% on an European scale. After having children, the absence of work-life balance provisions has pushed workers (mostly women) to look for part-time work arrangements or, at worst, to leave the labour market altogether.
Furthermore, in the recent crisis, austerity measures have yielded insufficient accessible, affordable but quality care services for children and dependents - including the elderly and the disabled. This puts lots of pressure on women to work part-time or stop working entirely. It is then necessary to address the existing gender stereotypes and urge society to view both sexes as equal earners and equal careers in the perspective of the workforce and the law. In addition, the current economical crisis in Europe exacerbated the number of workers that accept a lower pay, leaving many with no other choice but to work longer hours, and even hold several jobs simultaneously in order to earn sufficient income. For these reasons the EU and all its member states, must implement measures that provide adequate wages and work to minimise the gender pay gap.
The European Parliament proposal: Creating labour market conditions favourable for work-life balance
To address the issue, the European Parliament drafted an own-initiative report to shed light on this worrisome situation and urge the Commission to continue working on the 2015 roadmap, which aimed at increasing female participation in the labour market by updating the current legal framework in the EU. MEPs adopted a non-binding resolution that urges the reformation of the work-life balance framework, and the introduction of legislative and non-legislative measures both at European and national levels. The resolution was adopted by 443 votes in favour, 123 against and 100 abstentions.
According to the Lithuanian co-rapporteur Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (Group of Socialists and Democrats, S&D), by passing a resolution, the Parliament sends a clear message to the Commission. More precisely, it urges the need to modernise the existing legislation, primarily to improve the parental leave and to revise the directive on maternity leave, and to adopt new EU directives on Paternity leave and Carers' leave. Furthermore, Ms. Blinkevičiūtė explained that such improvements are necessary to put more women back into the labour market. Today having children still negatively affects the female employment rates, and the EU framework has failed to acknowledge this aspect of gender inequality. These measures would also enhance European workers’ work-life balance and respond to increased care needs.
According to the resolution, the most important action is to ensure adequate shared leave arrangements. At the moment, insufficiently paid leave arrangements for fathers and, in many cases, inadequate incentives to use these provisions, only serve to reinforce gender inequality. As significantly women more than man tend to use family leaves, so that their status in the labour market continue to be compromised in terms of employability, pay, and advancement in careers. Meanwhile, men struggle to spend time with their families, being theirs, in many cases, the only income.
In order to resolve this pressing matter, this report urges the Commission to:
• Propose an updated Pregnant Workers (Maternity Leave) Directive 92/85/ECC, as the current proposal dates back to 1992 and was adopted to address workplace health and safety rather than equality. The existing directive ensures 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and protection against unlawful dismissal. The revision, however, should prolong paid leave with a diverse set of options that take into account the needs and traditions of all the Member States.
• Propose a Paternity Leave Directive to enable men to care for their children and/or dependents. This would include a mandatory and non-transferable, paid paternity leave.
• Propose an implementation report of the Parental Leave Directive 2010/18/EU;
• Propose a Carer Leave Directive to supplement the provision of affordable care and to allow workers to care better for their children and/or dependents.
Another area of improvement is identified in the need to provide adequate working arrangements and good practices. A variety of working arrangements should be offered to employees, including telework, flexible working hours and part-times. Though, employees should not be confined to one working arrangement, they have the right to make decisions that benefit their families. This will reduce the burden of insufficient work-life balance for both women and men. Commission should also address those Member States that fail to implement the Working time Directive.
Evidently, the current life-work balance in Europe is threatened by numerous factors and it is particularly unfavourable for women. Favourable labour market conditions are only possible if people have sufficient time outside their work hours to focus on care, leisure and personal development. The Report prepared by Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D) and Tatjana Ždanoka (Greens) sets the actions for the European institutions to effectively address this significant problem. It is now up to the European Commission to undertake the necessary steps.
European Commission (2013, January 22), Reconciliation between work and private life.
COFACE (2016, August 13), The European Parliament listens to families in Europe and votes in favour of the Work-Life Balance report! Retrieved from http://www.ey2014.eu/
European Commission (2016, August ), Roadmap: New start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families.
European Parliament (2016, August 2), Report on creating labour market conditions favourable for work-life balance - A8-0253/2016.