After the withdrawal of the maternity leave proposal: Commission publishes roadmap on work-life balance for those with dependants

Last month, after continued blockades by the Council, the European Commission withdrew its proposal on a revised maternity leave directive from 2008. Today, it presented a roadmap on a new follow-up initiative. The roadmap, themed 'A new start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families', sets out possible ways forward not specifically for maternity leave but more generally for a better work-life balance faced by working families and women and men with dependants. The possible options to move ahead, as set out in the roadmap, include both legislative and non-legislative options. Kirsten Lühmann, President of CESI's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Commission, stresses that concrete proposals that will flow from this roadmap must be ambitious and not lack teeth.

After the withdrawal of the maternity leave proposal: Commission publishes roadmap on work-life balance for those with dependants

According to Ms Lühmann, the roadmap correctly outlines the challenges faced by working families and working women in particular: “Employment rates among women continue to be significantly lower than employment rates among men. Many young mothers do not make it back to full employment after having given birth to a child, and young parents continue to often face difficulties in finding an appropriate balance between work and family. But this is nothing new”.

Indeed, the European Commission writes in its roadmap that the situation of young mothers and families will not improve in the foreseeable future unless the EU takes effective action. Ms Lühmann adds: “After the discussions of the last months on the maternity leave file, a call for action by the European Commission is the right signal. There is lots to do and giving up is not an option.”

European Commission: Three options to move ahead

The Commission roadmap outlines three options to move forward:

First, via legislation to enforce, amend or introduce binding policies. This would touch on areas such as:
• a generalisation of the existing rights to flexible working arrangements to both parents and women and men with caring responsibilities;
• updates of the social partner agreements on parental leave, fixed-term work and part-time work (if desired by the social partners);
• a better enforcement of and new incentives for take-up of parental leave by fathers;
• improvements to the existing maternity leave directive (here, however, the Commission indirectly rules out a substantial increase in the maternity leave floor currently in place);
• the introduction of a special carers’ leave; and
• a strengthening of the implementation and where needed the enforcement of Directive 2006/54 on equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation and of Directive 2010/41 on the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity;

Second, through non-legislative instruments. These would address, for instance:
• the development of EU level benchmarks in the format of proposals for Council recommendations on conditions for women participation in the labour market, on child and other dependent persons care infrastructure availability, accessibility and equality and on incentives and disincentives in tax and benefit systems;
• a regular monitoring of and public reporting on these benchmarks through the European semester and thematic reports;
• a facilitation of a structured dialogue with the Member States, the social partners and other actors of the labour market to identify, exchange and promote best practices supporting women’s participation on the labour market; and
• the initiation of awareness-raising campaigns to foster an understanding of work-life reconciliation policies benefits.

Third, by combining (parts of) the legislative and non-legislative options referred to above.

Lühmann: Binding, legislative measures must be included in the package

Kirsten Lühmann encourages the Commission to include the first option in its forthcoming proposals: “Non-binding suggestions and recommendations alone do not lead anywhere. During the discussions on the 2008 maternity leave directive proposal, the Member States proved that they do not see any need for action. The Commission, as the EU’s negotiation facilitator, must bring forward clear proposals and steer the European Parliament and the Council towards a credible compromise.” Ms Lühmann added that a quick and decisive agreement on an encompassing package of measures is important: “We cannot afford another impasse of more than half a decade!”

To access the Commission’s roadmap, follow this link