Work-life balance

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The European Commission has developed a roadmap combining a number of initiatives to address the challenges of working parents and work-life balance, including maternity leave.

This comes seven years after its proposal to amend the maternity leave directive in 2008. Lack of progress on this proposal, on which no consensus on the way forward could be reached, resulted in the commission withdrawing the draft directive as part of its cutting red-tape exercise (REFIT) at the beginning of July 2015.

Latest update - May 2016

On Friday 13 May the European Parliament adopted a resolution on implementation of the social partner framework agreement on parental leave, calling for the European Commission and member states to do more to extend availability of and access to parental leave for both men and women. This followed a report in April 2016 from MEPs on two of the European Parliament’s committees (the Women’s and Employment committees) recommending further action at European level to improve work-life balance, for example by introducing longer paid maternity or parental leave and leave for carers. 

NHS European Office responds to EU Commission consultation on work-life balance

The NHS European Office has responded to the European Commission public consultation on work-life balance.

The commission’s consultation asked whether more action should be taken at European level to improve work-life balance for employees with dependents, and if so what kind of action. Should the EU introduce:
  • more legislation, so that the same rules apply across the EU? For example, improvements in the length of paid/unpaid maternity and/or parental leave? New EU legislation introducing paternity and carers’ leave? New rights to request flexible working?
  • non-legislative guidance, leaving member states to decide on the degree and kind of flexibilities? For example paid or unpaid leave (as above) for parents and carers, provision of childcare/disabled/elderly care, tax/benefit incentives?
  • better monitoring of what member states are doing?
  • benchmarks against which member states’ performance in these areas can be measured?
  • exchange of good practice?
Read the NHS European Office response

This follows the EU Commission’s recent social partners’ consultation, aimed at employers and trade union organisations, asking whether improvements should be made to EU legislation to improve work-life balance for employees with dependants, and if so what kind of improvements. Read the consultation in full.

What will happen next?

The social partners will be the main drivers in terms of legislative proposals, and only in the absence of negotiations will the commission come forward with proposals for legislation.

The NHS European Office, through our membership of social partner organisations CEEP (the European association of public sector employers) and HOSPEEM (the European Association of Hospital and Healthcare Employers) will respond to the European commission’s consultation of the social partners, giving our views on the options suggested and on the best way forward.

If social partners negotiate we will be fully involved in influencing the negotiations. We will in any case follow this dossier closely at every stage to promote and safeguard the NHS’s interests.

You can download the roadmap and also read why the draft directive was withdrawn back in July 2015.

Roadmap proposals

Whilst no definitive path has been prioritised at this stage, pending the public and social partner consultation, the roadmap proposes three possible options:

Option 1: Legislative measures, including tweaked changes to the maternity leave directive

Examples of possible changes include provisions for breastfeeding mothers after return to work or improving protection against dismissal. Divisive issues of the past – namely full pay on maternity leave will not be reopened.

Other legislative measures include the possibility of a stand-alone paternity leave directive as well as a carer’s leave directive for which a public consultation already took place in 2011. 

The social partners will be invited to assess their agreements on parental leave, the fixed-term work and the part-time work directives. Strengthening the right to request flexible working arrangements for both women and men with caring responsibilities is also part of this option.

Option 2: Non legislative measures or the ‘soft approach’ which would be set out in a commission communication

This would encompass ambitious benchmarks on conditions for women’s participation in the labour market; monitoring and reporting through the European semester process; targeted European social funds for childcare projects and infrastructure; targeted awareness raising campaigns on work-life balance.

Option 3: Proposes a combination of both legislative and non-legislative measures

The overall aim of the proposed roadmap is to increase women’s labour-market participation hence improving their economic independence, to reduce gender gaps in pay, pensions and poverty over time. Sharing of care responsibilities with men by facilitating men’s take up of leave, is also part of this objective.

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