The European Parliament has backed a new directive aimed at improving work-life balance for working parents and carers. The work-life balance directive provides for a minimum of ten days’ paternity leave, plus five days' unpaid carers’ leave a year for all workers.
Under the new law, pay for paternity leave will be set by national governments, but must be at least the equivalent of sick pay. It also provides for a minimum of four months’ paid and unpaid parental leave per parent, of which two months are non-transferable between parents.
Fórsa’s Equality Officer Geraldine O’Brien welcomed the improved rights for parents and carers under the directive. “They will constitute an important step towards addressing the underrepresentation of women in the European labour market, particularly in management and higher grades,” she said.
The overall employment rate of women in the EU is 11.5% lower than that of men, while just over 57% of women are in full-time work compared to 75.5% of men.
According to the EU, over 30% of women who are not active in the labour market cite caring responsibilities as a reason for not being in work. This compares to just 4.5% of men.
The directive also enhances rights for both parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements, including reduced and flexible working hours and flexibility on the place of work. It means employers must respond to such requests and give a reason for any refusal.
Irish Congress of Trade Union's (ICTU’s) Equality Officer David Joyce welcomed the directive, but said the EU could have gone further. “This is a positive development for working parents and carers. It represents real progress even if it could have gone further. Trade unions wanted stronger rights – such as a minimum European threshold for payment and paid carers’ leave – but the eventual compromise package is still an important improvement," he said.
The work-life balance directive is part of the European Commission’s broader approach to addressing women's underrepresentation in the labour market.
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