A number of principles and rights included in the Pillar will require further legislative or non-legislative initiatives to become effective. Where needed, existing EU law will be updated, complemented and better enforced, as exemplified by the rest of the package presented alongside the Pillar. Today, the Commission adopted a proposal on work-life balance, it launched two social partner consultations, one on modernising the rules on labour contracts (Written Statement Directive) and one on access to social protection, and it adopted a clarification of the Working Time Directive.
All of the initiatives adopted today are part of the 2017 Commission work programme. Further initiatives may be considered in the context of future work programmes.
Why is the Commission proposing an initiative on Work-Life Balance?
Although more and more women are highly qualified and 65% of graduates today in Europe are women, there are still 11.6 percentage points fewer women in employment than men. In 2015, the average employment rate of women with one child under 6 years of age was 8.8 percentage points lower than that of women without young children, and in several Member States this difference is above 30 percentage points One of the reasons for this is that opportunities for men to share family responsibilities on an equal basis with women are still limited. Available leave provisions are indeed mostly taken up by women, thereby reproducing gender inequality in the labour market and in the household. Women's participation in the labour market, and consequently their economic independence, remains lower than it should be. This results in a gender employment gap and a gender pay and pension gaps as well as in a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion, especially for women of retirement age.
The EU needs to modernise its legal framework to ensure a better balance between work and family life for both women and men. Existing policies have not brought equal opportunities that allow fathers and mothers to work and care together for the welfare of children and society at large. Taking action is not only a question of fairness, it is also an economic imperative. The cost of the employment gender gap amounts to 370 billion euros, equivalent to 2.8% of GDP. Closing this gap would be essential for society and the economy, especially as all European countries will be confronted with the challenges of demographic ageing.
With its Work-Life Balance initiative, the Commission puts forward a package of complementary legislative and policy measures on matters such as leaves, flexible working arrangements and formal care services. Families should benefit from more flexibility and have a real choice when they are trying to balance their professional and family lives.
What are the main changes brought about by the proposed Directive?
The proposal for a Directive introduces improved rights for both women and men at EU level to address the limited participation of women in the labour market, to promote non-discrimination, improve family leave opportunities for fathers and foster gender equality. At the end of the day, it will of course be for every individual to decide whether to take advantage from these rights and opportunities.
Current EU legislative framework
No paternity leave at EU level
10 working days of paternity leave when the child is born
4 months of parental leave
4 months of parental leave:
No carers' leave at EU-level beyond time-off on grounds of force majeure
Right to 5 days of carers' leave per year per worker, paid at sick pay level, to take care of seriously ill or dependent relatives
Flexible working arrangements for parents and carers
Currently at EU level the right to request this exists only for parents coming back from parental leave
Right to request flexible working arrangements for parents of children up to 12 years old and workers with caring responsibilities
Protection against dismissal and unfavourable treatment
Currently at EU level protection against dismissal and/or unfavourable treatment exists for maternity, parental, paternity and adoption leave (in those Member States which have paternity or adoption leave).
There is no EU-level protection against dismissal and/or unfavourable treatment for carers' leave and for workers requesting flexible working arrangements (except for part-time work).
Protection against discrimination and/or dismissal in cases where workers choose to take or apply to take leave or request flexible working arrangements.
The proposal takes into account the different national systems, while setting or increasing the minimum standards at EU level. It builds on a broad consultation and lessons from experience. In particular, the Directive should avoid imposing administrative, financial and legal constraints in a way which would hold back the creation and development of small and medium-sized companies. Member States are therefore invited to assess the impact of their transposition act on SME's in order to make sure that they are not disproportionately affected, with specific attention for micro-enterprises and for administrative burden.
What will be the accompanying policy measures to the Directive?
In order to address shortcomings in Member States such as the lack of care services and economic disincentives to work for second earners (e.g. taxes on a second salary too burdensome for a second person in the couple to work), the Commission will take the following action:
- Enhancing the use of the European Semester to address the issue of work-life balance, through Country Specific Recommendations.
- Exchanging best practices between Member States on how to increase gender balanced take-up of family-related leaves and of flexible working arrangements and improve the collection of EU-level data by Eurostat.
- Provide guidance and monitoring Member States as regards tax-benefit systems detrimental to women participation in the labour market.
- Ensuring better enforcement of existing rights and protection under current EU law.
- Improving the quality, affordability and accessibility of childcare and long-term care.
- Using European funding to invest in actions/measures that will enhance work-life balance in Member States.
- Raising workers' awareness on their rights and how to obtain legal assistance on dismissal protection when they take family leave or when women become pregnant; launching a study on dismissal protection and unfavourable treatment.
The policy measures will be developed and implemented by the Commission in close cooperation with Member States and stakeholders, such as national governments, regions, local authorities, social partners and the European Network of Equality Bodies (EQUINET).
Why is the Commission proposing to introduce a right to paternity leave?
Across the European Union, there are currently unequal possibilities for women and men to take leave around the time of the arrival of a new baby. There is an EU right that sets minimum standards for women taking maternity leave, whereas there is no EU-level right to paternity leave. This contributes to an unequal division of work and care between parents and deprives men of spending time with their newborn. Paternity leave helps to develop a first close bond between the child and the father, and has a positive effect on the child's development.
What will be the changes made to the parental leave rules?
The existing Parental Leave Directive (2010/18/EU) has proven to be insufficient in helping both parents to use equally their rights to parental leave. As it did not guarantee an allowance during parental leave, in particular many fathers – having in general higher salaries than mothers – did not apply for it, to avoid losing the largest income for the family. Also only one month of parental leave was not transferrable. This meant that men very often gave the remaining months to women. This resulted in women's longer absence from the labour market and sustaining the gender pay gap.
Evidence shows clearly that the take-up of parental leave by men is influenced by a combination of three factors: 1) payment level, 2) non-transferability and 3) flexible uptake. Non-transferability or parental leave is a very important factor that explains the difference in uptake by fathers between countries in which this non-transferable leave exists already and those in which it does not. Non-legislative actions, for instance on childcare, also play an important role.
By proposing to make parental leave non-transferable between the parents for four months and remunerated at least at sick pay level, we aim at making parental leave a more attractive and accessible option for both women and men.
Why is the Commission not proposing to amend the Maternity Leave Directive?
When withdrawing its proposal to revise the Maternity Leave Directive, the Commission announced its intention to come up with a new and broader proposal taking into account the developments in society in the past decade.
The Work-Life Balance initiative delivers on this commitment by focusing on working parents, men and women, and those with care responsibilities, while at the same time providing the level of necessary protection and a better enforcement of existing rights under EU Directives.
This initiative also proposes new measures aimed at strengthening the application of the Maternity leave Directive and the Directive on equal opportunities and treatment of men and women in employment, while leaving the rights granted under its provisions intact. Women can still benefit from 14 weeks of maternity leave paid at least at the level of sick pay and are protected against non-discrimination and dismissal in relation to their pregnancy.
Those strengthening measures aim at ensuring better implementation of EU legislation, including on protection from dismissal. They will promote compliance in particular through financial support of national projects and awareness-raising campaigns. Also the sharing of best practices could be fostered for example to allow smooth transition between leaves and employment, for instance on the provision of breastfeeding facilities at the workplace.
What do you mean by 'carer'?
A carer is a worker providing personal care or support in case of a serious illness or dependency of a relative. In the context of the work-life balance proposal, a relative is the son, daughter, mother father, spouse or partner in civil partnership (where such partnerships are envisaged by national law), of the carer. A dependent relative is a person who is temporarily or permanently in need of care due to a serious medical condition or disability.
Why is the Commission proposing to introduce carers' leave?
With demographic evolutions in our ageing society, care for dependent relatives will only increase. This will have an impact in particular on women who still carry the biggest part of caring responsibilities. While sufficient care facilities are important, specific leave to allow family members to care for relatives will help to better reconcile work and private commitments.
If carers' leave is embedded in the working conditions people sign up to, it helps to give them more flexibility to be there for their family when most needed. Ensuring financial compensation and the minimum length of leave will encourage also men to take up carers' leave and will promote gender equality in care provision.
What will be the benefits of this proposal?
The proposal will bring about benefits on several fronts:
- For women: This proposal would allow to better share family responsibilities among women and men by lifting some existing barriers for women to fully participate in the labour market. Men and women will both have more real choice of how to balance work and family life through more flexible working arrangements and leave. Increased female labour market participation means a steadier income and better pension for women, minimising the risk of poverty and/or social exclusion.
- For men: Our proposed measures will facilitate take-up of leave by fathers, helping to build stronger family bonds. Fathers' involvement in childcare contributes to higher life satisfaction and to their increased physical and mental health. Increased female labour market participation and appropriate payment of leaves means that fathers can also afford to take flexible working arrangements without worrying about financial repercussions.
- For children and dependant relatives: Children will be able to spend more time with their parents and particularly their fathers. This can result in higher cognitive and behavioural outcomes of children. In addition, having both parents and carers working minimises the risk of poverty and social exclusion for children and dependent relatives. Finally, improving the quality, affordability and access to childcare and long-term care for parents and carers will also increase the quality of care for children and dependent relatives.
- For employers: With parents being able to better balance their private and working lives, their participation in the labour market will improve. As a result, companies will benefit from a wider talent pool and a more diversified staff.
Employees with a sound work-life balance will be more motivated and productive, which will create less absenteeism, and so lead to higher productivity and competitiveness.
More possibilities for hiring and retaining talent will arise, increasing the competitiveness of European businesses across the Member States.
- For the society as a whole: Countries which have family-friendly employment policies and widely available child-care facilities have the smallest declines in fertility rates. There will be a higher return on investments in education given that the skills and competences of women will be better used on the labour market. There will be less pressure on public finance due to increased labour supply, tax revenues and reduced spending on social transfers to address female and child poverty. Finally, achieving more gender equality and better opportunities for both men and women is at the heart of our European society models.
Will the proposal for a Directive cover also the self-employed?
The self-employed are not explicitly covered by the proposal for a Directive since the Directive is addressed to workers. The decision on whether the self-employed should also benefit from this initiative should be left to the Member States. However, in the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Commission also launches a first stage consultation with the social partners on access to social protection, with a focus on atypical contracts and on the self-employed.
Moreover, self-employed persons will be able to benefit from policy measures envisaged in this initiative, including for example improved access to quality and affordable childcare facilities.
Lastly, there is already relevant legislation in place to protect equal rights between self-employed men and women, such as the Directive on equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity.
How does this Initiative fit in the broader Commission agenda?
The Work-Life Balance Initiative supports the Commission's priorities for jobs and growth outlined in President Juncker's political guidelines. It is part of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which sets out a number of essential principles to support well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems and of the Commission's Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019. The initiative will also contribute to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality.
How has the Commission reached its decision on this initiative?
The preparation of the Work-Life Balance initiative has been supported by an extensive consultation process and an impact assessment of a potential range of legal and policy measures. The Commission completed a two-stage consultation with the European social partners in 2016. An open public consultation was also carried out to seek the views of citizens and other stakeholders.
What are the next steps?
The Council and the European Parliament will now discuss the proposal with a view to reaching an agreement. The Commission will also engage with Member States and various stakeholders, such as national governments, regions, local authorities, social partners, to ensure the efficient implementation of accompanying measures.
Member States may entrust social partners with the implementation of this Directive as long as the results sought under this directive are guaranteed.
Why does the EU need a new initiative on access to social protection?
The world of work is changing fast. With the advent of the circular and digital economy, different relationships between employers, employees and customers are blurring the boundaries of employment and self-employment known so far. They constitute a rising share of job opportunities, notably for the young. However they also bring about new challenges when it comes to access to social protection and employment services.
The initiative to launch a consultation on the topic is a response to issues raised by many stakeholders during the public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights. It was also a central topic at the January 2017 European Conference on the European Pillar of Social Rights. Moreover, in its response to the consultation the European Parliament called for an EU initiative on adequate social protection and employment services for people in all forms of employment.
Who is being affected by lack of access to social protection?
Today people in self-employment constitute 15% of the workforce in EU Member States and people in non-standard employment form another 20-25%. In many Member States they are left without sufficient access to social protection and employment services and it is estimated they account for up to half of EU non-standard workers and self-employed.
For example, unemployment insurance is not accessible for the self-employed in 10 Member States. Almost a third of people on temporary full-time contracts in the EU do not qualify for unemployment benefits, ranging from more than 70% to less than 3%, depending on the Member State. As for sickness benefits, some 40% of the self-employed do not qualify, whereas for workers on fixed term contracts it is as little as 10% who are in this situation. Employment services for the self-employed, such as training, mentoring and advice, are only available in a small number of Member States.
The accumulated effects of such disparities in entitlements are likely to give rise to new inter- and intra-generational inequalities between those that have or manage to gain employment on standard contracts with full social rights and those who do not, which undermines the overall sustainability of the social protection systems.
What is the Commission planning to do?
As a first step, the Commission is launching a consultation of the Social Partners to collect their views on the possible direction of an EU action to ensure that people in all forms of employment have adequate to social protection and employment services. This will be followed by a public consultation inviting all stakeholders to indicate their understanding of the problem and possible solutions. The Commission will also consult representative fora of the self-employed. Before it decides on a course of action the Commission will furthermore carry out a comprehensive impact assessment supported by various studies. At the end of this process, the Commission plans to put forward a proposal for action at EU level.
How are Social Partners consulted?
As laid down in Article 154 TFEU, the Commission has the duty to consult European social partners prior to presenting any legislative proposal in the social field. (The range of issues is set out in Article 153 of the Treaty, for example working conditions, social security and social protection.) The consultation must follow a compulsory two-stage procedure. In the first stage the Commission consults the social partners on the possible direction of an initiative. In the second stage, the focus is on the content of an initiative. This process enables the European social partners to directly influence the drafting of social proposals. Moreover, social partners may suspend the Commission initiative whilst deciding to enter into negotiations themselves. If this does not happen, the Commission can prepare a legislative proposal if it still considers that Community action is desirable.
Rules on labour contracts - Written Statement Directive
What is the Written Statement Directive and why does the Commission consider modernising the rules on labour contracts?
This directive exists since 1991 and it gives employees starting a new job the right to be notified in writing of the essential aspects of their employment relationship. The Commission is launching a consultation of social partners on a proposed revision to reflect labour market changes. The Commission's evaluation of the Directive so far showed that many workers in the EU do not receive a written confirmation of their working conditions or do not receive all the information they need in a timely manner. This includes domestic workers and those who perform on-call work. Moreover, whatever the level of information provided to workers, some practices in some precarious labour relationships may be detrimental to workers, especially as regards casual work: According to a report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), casual work (such as zero-hour contracts) raises particular concerns about working conditions and is characterised by low levels of job and income security.
How are Social Partners consulted?
As laid down in Article 154 TFEU, the Commission has the duty to consult European social partners prior to presenting any legislative proposal in the social field. (The range of issues is set out in Article 153 of the Treaty, for example working conditions, social security and social protection.) The consultation must follow a compulsory two-stage procedure. In the first stage the Commission consults the social partners on the possible direction of an initiative. In the second stage, the focus is on the content of an initiative. This process enables the European social partners to directly influence the drafting of social proposals. Moreover, social partners may suspend the Commission initiative whilst deciding to enter into negotiations themselves. If this does not happen, the Commission can review the current Directive. The Commission intends to propose a revision of this directive by the end of the year.
Working Time Directive
What is the Working Time Directive and what is the Commission proposing?
The Working Time Directive (Directive 2003/88/EC) aims to set minimum standards to protect the health and safety of workers against overwork or inadequate rest periods, while also providing flexibility for the needs of different sectors and activities.
Based on a growing body of case law, the Commission is providing guidance on how to interpret various aspects of this directive. Recent case law (for example on the carry-over of untaken paid annual leave) makes it appropriate to bring clarity on content and application. Moreover, a minority of workers seems to consistently work over the 48-hour average weekly limit, sometimes for very excessive hours. Such behaviour not disrupts the balance between work and family life but poses risks both for the workers themselves and for others (colleagues, service users).
Why does the Commission restrict itself to an interpretative communication on Working Time Directive?
The Commission has conducted a long and extensive review, with comprehensive consultations and analysis. On this basis, we believe that the Directive remains a relevant instrument in today's world of work. The most pressing need is to bring legal clarity on its content and further practical support in its application. Our objective is to ensure that the EU working time rules can best meet the needs of employers and workers in the 21st century. Broadly speaking, employers want working time rules made more flexible to support competitiveness in a globalised economy and to respond to volatile, seasonal and sometimes 24-hour demands. Workers underline the pressures caused by intensification of work, and the problems caused by long working hours both for health and safety, and for continuing work participation by both parents. The question is now to find the right balance between these needs. In this regard, recent case law has provided some answers and the purpose of today's Communication is to make that guidance more accessible.
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