Our Position

The European Commission consultation for Social Partners on work-life balance

First phase consultation of social partners under article 154 TFEU on possible action addressing the challenges of work-life balance faced by working parents and caregivers

EUROCADRES – Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff, one of the recognised European cross-sectoral social partners, hereby responds to the first phase consultation of social partners under article 154 TFEU on possible action addressing the challenges of work-life balance faced by working parents and caregivers.

Representing Professionals and Managers we aim to focus our comments on the specific interests of our members. In addition to our response, Eurocadres gives support to the ETUC response, which addresses the workforce at large.

Do you agree with the description of the issues in this paper as correct and sufficient?

The consultation document provides a good overview of the current challenges. A particularly important problem is that more women than men finish tertiary education, but still men outnumber women in entering the labour market.

Also, women tend to be less paid, have part-time jobs and highly-educated women work in lower-skilled professions. Not including highly educated people in the labour market is a waste of resources. The Commission Work Programme includes actions for a work-life balance, which is a step into the right direction. However, we regret that the overall Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 was presented as a Commission Staff Working Document. Tougher action on EU level is required to enhance gender equality.

Do you consider that improvements should be made to EU legislation to improve work-life balance for parents and people with caring responsibilities in view of the issues raised in point 4 of this document, and if so what type of improvements?

Stronger pressure from EU level is needed to improve work-life balance and to promote overall gender equality. Eurocadres agrees on the Commission’s raise of issues. We highly support good quality and accessible care for children, elderly, sick and disabled; as well as the right to parental leave and flexible working conditions in order to increase women's participation in the labour market. With regards to child care, actions to meet the Barcelona targets on childcare facilities are needed. The European Quality of Life Survey, carried out by Eurofound, highlights the difficulties childcare users face, putting emphasis on – in order of significance – cost, availability, physical access and quality.

The Parental Leave Directive should be renewed to better entitle workers to take parental leave on a piecemeal or part-time basis.  Eurocadres' aim is a raise of the number of highly-skilled women on the labour market. We cannot afford a Europe with the most skilled housewives in the world. Women’s participation in the labour market created economic growth.

The current Parental Leave Directive granting a minimum of four months' leave is not sufficient or long enough. It is an uncomfortable situation for many women and it does not prevent women from leaving the work force, nor does unpaid leave. The legal right to leave and come back should be equal for mothers and fathers, without cutting rights of women.

We would also support a renewal of the Maternity Leave Directive to ease mothers’ transition back into work, especially to increase protection against dismissal and transfer to other duties after return to work.

We particularly support that the Commission’s recognises the role of men when evening out gender roles. We approve of paid leave arrangements for fathers, and think that all legislation concerning paid leave for caring purposes should be gender-neutral. We believe that Europe should be ready for an attitude change and encourage paternal leave and parental leave for men.

It is the role of employers, colleagues and politicians to show an example and speak for shared responsibility. Facilitating fathers to take parental leave is a crucial task to achieve equal division of parental responsibilities. Fathers’ right to parental leave should also be enhanced through this directive.

In order to increase the number of men taking parental leave, a substantial leave should be an individual and non-transferrable right. In some member states there are wide-spread fears that granting further rights to fathers may affect an already poor right to maternity leave. The renewal must aim to enhance rights rather than redistributing them between different-sex parents.

The Part-time directive (97/81/EC, based on the Framework Agreement on Part-Time work) should be renewed to facilitate flexible working time arrangements. In light of digitalisation also the framework agreement on telework of 2001 is interesting. As was stated in the agreement “The social partners see telework both as a way for companies and public service organisations to modernise work organisation, and as a way for workers to reconcile work and social life and giving them greater autonomy in the accomplishment of their tasks.”

Eurocadres is in general positive to introducing a right to carers’ leave. The protection against dismissal in life situations where individuals need to take time off work to care for their close and loved ones needs to be good. Simultaneously a carers’ leave could help rectifying the situation of in particular women losing out on pension earnings due while in a caring situation.

Fundamental to this issue is good access to good quality publicly funded care. When the care systems for persons of older age, sickness and disabilities in need of care, can be trusted to provide services of good quality and easy access it eases the pressure on individuals. The reason to take time off work should not have to be just for the reason of having no other option of ensuring good care, but rather to spend time in the company of the close and love one.

An introduction of a carers’ leave would however have to be done with extreme caution. Carried out in a poor way it may even risk deteriorating women´s position in labour market. As especially women will tend to demand carers’ leave, the existing “pregnancy risk” that hinders the possibilities of young women may become a “caring risk” that hinders the possibilities of women in all ages.

Also, unlike a growing child, it is not possible to determine when the need to care for an ill and perhaps dying relative will end. That makes it difficult to demand return to work at a specific time, or difficult for employers to plan staffing, this could make women less attractive on the labour market, especially in the age where their parents are growing old and in need of extra care.

If not constructed well, including adding pension earning rights etc., the carers’ leave risks adding to gender inequality. This could possibly be mitigated by finding ways to make men take carers’ leave. A word of warning is that such measures may either be futile being mere recommendations or be considered to infringe on personal integrity.

Another way to improve the situation is through enhancing workers’ rights to flexible working hours.

We realise that the situation is different in many parts of Europe, and that the alternative for many women can be to leave the workforce altogether. However, we would like the energy aimed at improving availability to quality care services for elderly, sick and disabled. This would enable women to participate fully in the labour force.

Second best is to argue for ways to make carers’ leave something that is equally normal for men to demand, whether it be the remuneration levels or pointing out that there are as many sons, brothers and husbands as there are daughters, sisters and wives and that the ambition must be that half of carers’ leave is demanded by men.

The issue of work-life balance is intricately linked to mental health and well-being. With women often having to bear a greater responsibility for family care stress factors outside work can be vast. Women also have higher mental health risk than men. Occupational psychosocial health risks have a clear gender dimension and are a great problem on workplaces in Europe, in particular with regards to stress.

50–60% of all lost working days can be attributed to work-related stress. The OSH framework directive does not at present specifically mention psychosocial health risks. Eurocadres strongly suggests that specific mentions of psychosocial health risks should be introduced in the framework directive. Although the framework directive de facto covers psychosocial health risks, this would be clearer if the directive specifically mentions also this perspective.

One additional aspect with close links to the issue of Work-Life Balance not mentioned in the paper is the Working Time Directive. Blurring the boundaries between work and family life is particularly problematic for those not enjoying the protection of the Working Time Directive.

Here Eurocadres once again would like to underline our discontent with the situation of the wide scope derogation of autonomous workers (article 17.1) from the protection of the directive. The clear link to work-life balance means that there are also gender aspects to consider. Women hold less managerial positions, while at the same time taking a larger caring responsibility for the household. With an ever-increasing share of professionals in the EU workforce the derogation has lead up to a structural opt-out.

Would you consider initiating a dialogue under Article 155 TFEU on any of the issues identified in point 4 of this consultation?

Yes. Eurocadres would be ready to discuss and negotiate with the other social partners on the issues.