On 18 June 2009, European social partners, in the presence of the European Commission, put pen to paper on an updated agreement on parental leave. The new text sets out a minimum of four months leave for each parent, one month longer than the terms set out in their prior 1995 agreement and the EU Directive that followed it.
The social partners signing the Framework Agreement were the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP) and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME). Together, these organisations represent thousands of employers and millions of workers across Europe. The agreement follows a period of consultation that began in 2006.
In a joint press release, the social partners indicated that the agreement aims to "contribute to a better reconciliation of professional, private and family life". It is also set to deliver "a positive response to demographic ageing by helping to increase Europeans'' labour market participation".
The new agreement makes clear that the conditions should apply to all workers, regardless of their type of contract. Gender equality concerns are also reflected in the text, which specifies that one month of the leave should not be transferable between parents. This measure is designed to allow adequate flexibility, while encouraging a more balanced take-up of the available leave, the lion''s share of which is typically taken up by the mother.
The updated framework agreement also breaks new ground in stepping up protection around the implementation of parental leave measures. Concretely, it envisages protection against discrimination for people both at the time they take up their leave and when they return to work. It also makes special provision for families with specific needs, for example those with disabled children.
Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, was present at the meeting. He welcomed the agreement, stating that it demonstrated "European social partnership works and delivers concrete results for workers and companies in Europe." The Commission is currently examining the agreement with a view to submitting a concrete legislative proposal to Council.