The Eurocadres blog
Good work-life balance crucial for employment and growth
Enabling both women and men to enjoy a good balance between their work and the rest of their lives is crucial not just for personal wellbeing, but also to reach major EU goals on employment and growth.
One of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy is a 75% employment rate for both men and women. But without a better work/life balance, this will be impossible. Many women will remain unemployed or trapped in insecure, low-status and part-time jobs, while many men will be unable to participate fully in their children’s lives. However, promoting work/life balance should not be regarded merely as a benefit for women or even for parents. It demands a much deeper change in employment policies and the way businesses work.
Research shows that employees with higher levels of work-family conflict suffer up to 12 times more often from burnout, and can experience up to three times more depression or other psychological problems than workers with a better work-life balance. According to Eurofound, one European worker in five has problems balancing their work and home lives.
Reconciliation policies are essential to accommodate the way families are changing, moving away from the traditional male breadwinner model. Women’s employment is tightly linked to the distribution of work and family responsibilities at home. On average, women do almost 12 hours more unpaid work a week at home than men.
However, promoting work/life balance should not be regarded merely as a benefit for women or even for parents. It demands a much deeper change in employment policies and the way businesses work.
Investment in public services is a basic requirement, including affordable, high-quality care for children, older people and other dependants.
In the ETUC’s Action Programme until 2019, adopted last year, we pledged to “press for a fairer balance in work, private and family responsibilities for both women and men, for example … by encouraging men to take parental and carers’ leave, and by lobbying for more public investment in care services and infrastructures, including child and elderly care.”
Yet far from investing, many Member States have cut family support as part of austerity policies introduced in response to the economic crisis. Our ETUC members have reported closure of kindergartens and after-school activities, loss of services for elderly and disabled people, and cuts in paid parental leave and family-related benefits.
The second vital ingredient needed for work/life balance is adequate, paid family-related leave, such as parental and paternity leave. We deplored the European Commission’s decision last year to withdraw the Maternity Leave Bill, which had been blocked by EU governments since 2010.
On average, women do almost 12 hours more unpaid work a week at home than men.
The Commission announced that it would instead consult the social partners on possible action. In our initial response, we pointed out the need to address a range of complex factors influencing work/life balance, including long and unpredictable working hours or stressful conditions, and unpaid and caring work in the home.
It was once expected that advanced countries with a higher proportion of women in the workforce would have a lower birth rate, because more women would choose career over family. But in fact, research shows that stable employment and good maternity benefits actually boost birth rates. Higher fertility in Scandinavian countries is linked to gender equality and high rates of female employment, plus subsidised childcare and generous parental leave making it easier to combine parenthood and working life. And most importantly, these countries are among the EU’s most successful economies.
Now the Commission plans to launch a second stage consultation around the end of May. But unfortunately we are a long way from agreement with the employers.
Last year, after tough negotiations, we secured a commitment to an exchange on promoting better reconciliation of work, private and family life as one of the eight priorities in the 2015-2017 European social partners’ work programme.
The ETUC is pressing for a mixture of legislative and non-legislative initiatives at EU level. We urge the employers to stop delaying and to start urgent negotiations on family-related leave and the other actions mentioned in the Commission’s first stage consultation paper.
In the meantime, we have urged the Commission to improve existing legislation and to promote upwards convergence between Member States. With regard to family responsibilities, we want to see a change in attitudes not only among men and women themselves, but also from managements and in workplaces.
The second vital ingredient needed for work/life balance is adequate, paid family-related leave, such as parental and paternity leave.
We have put forward a range of actions, including:
- Maternity pay should take account of, and compensate for, gender wage and pension gaps;
- Pregnant women and new mothers need stronger protection from dismissal;
- Better health and safety protection should also cover atypical and domestic workers;
- A new paternity leave directive should guarantee 2 weeks-1 month’s paid leave;
- New legislation on carers’ leave should address the problems of older women caring for ageing or disabled relatives.
The ETUC is also ready to negotiate with employers on strengthening the social partners’ agreement on parental leave, in areas such as pay.
Finally, the ETUC emphasises the importance of early childhood education and care in creating jobs and sustaining recovery. The 2002 Barcelona targets on childcare provisions have yet to be met in a number of Member States. Parental leave must be coupled with affordable and accessible childcare if women are to fulfil their potential in the workforce.
Confederal Secretary of ETUC –
European Trade Union Confederation