On 24 January 2019, the Romanian Presidency of the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on key aspects of the proposal for a Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers. This initiative is a concrete deliverable of the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed in November 2017. 

One of the main causes for gender employment gap, gender pay gap and gender pension gap is an inadequate work-life balance policy. The current legal framework provides limited provisions for men to assume an equal share of caring responsibilities with women. Moreover, there is currently no EU legislation providing for paternity leave or leave to take care of ill or dependant relatives, with exception of absence for force majeure. 

The new Directive will repeal and replace the 2010 Parental Leave Directive, which currently regulates parental leave, by introducing new rights while strengthening existing ones.  The proposal sets minimum requirements for Member States to ensure the implementation of the principle of equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work. More specifically, the Directive aims to improve access for working parents and carers to leaves and flexible working arrangements. 

The Directive should apply to all workers who have employment contracts or other employment relationships. This should include contracts relating to employment or employment relationships of part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers or persons with a contract of employment or employment relationship with a temporary agency.

The proposal is foreseen to strongly benefit individuals, companies and the wider society. By not obliging women to choose between family lives and their professional careers, this will boost their presence in the labour market. Businesses will be able to attract and retain a wider talent pool, benefitting from a more motivated and productive labour force as well as less absenteeism. Most importantly, they will contribute to address the challenge of demographic ageing and reduce the gender gap which currently accounts for an economic loss of around EUR370 billion per year. However, the new rules will put more burden on employers, with some of the measures being entirely new in some Member States.

The main elements of the proposals are:

  • ten working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child, irrespective of marital or family status, compensated at least at the level of sick pay;
  • individual right to four months of parental leave, two of which are paid and non-transferable between the parents. This should encourage the second parent to take up their entitlement to such leave and not to transfer a considerable proportion of it to mothers. The right to parental leave should be granted until the child is at least 12 years old. Parents can request to take the leave in flexible forms (full time, part time or in a piecemeal way);
  • a new annual right to take five working days per year of carers' leave for workers caring for relatives (child, parent, spouse or partner) in need of care or support due to serious medical reasons - subject to appropriate proof of the illness or the dependency situation;
  • the right for parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes, such as reduced or flexible working hours, or flexibility on the place of work. 

The initiative also contains a set of non-legislative measures (e.g. protection against discrimination and dismissal for parents and carers).

Member States will now examine the provisional agreement, which still needs to be endorsed by the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee. The formal vote in both the Council and the European Parliament will follow at a later stage.