In August 2015, the Commission published a “Roadmap” for the initiative ‘A new start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families’ to replace the 2008 Commission proposal to revise the Maternity Leave Directive. The objective for this initiative is to increase the participation of women in the labour market by modernising and adapting the current EU legal and policy framework to today’s labour market to allow for parents with children and/or dependent relatives to better balance family and work life, allow for a greater sharing of care responsibilities between women and men, and to strengthen gender equality in the labour market.
The Commission has launched the first stage consultation with the European social partners to obtain their views on the possible direction of European Union action, in particular on legislative measures concerning family leaves and flexible working arrangements that could address these challenges.
COFACE regrets that the previous proposal for a Maternity Leave Directive has been withdrawn but welcomes this initiative and its composite approach that aims to put forward a comprehensive framework to support working parents and carers. However, COFACE would like to stress that reconciliation policies should be aiming to provide a supportive environment for all workers, regardless of their employment status (employee, self-employed..) and must not be considered solely as benefits for younger mothers, fathers or carers.
In addition to the challenges mentioned in the European Commission Roadmap, COFACE wants to alert for two possible risks that may arise if Work-Life Balance policies are not put forward taking into account the voice of citizens and families and that may work against the Work-Life Balance principle itself in the medium and long period:
1-Impact of technologies: more flexibility and smart working (positive) and shift from culture of presence at the workplace to culture of availability 24/7 (negative).
2-Promotion of freelance work and entrepreneurship as the only and best solution for all workers: while entrepreneurship, especially for women, must be supported, it has to be recognised that become self-employed and entrepreneur must be an informed choice and not the last resort to have some forms of work-life balance, or a form of individualisation of work that may exempt from the introduction of standards and policies enabling all workers (employee and self-employed) to reconcile their work and family /care responsibilities.
COFACE asks for a coherent legislative package on leave policies, including maternity, paternity, parental and carers’ leave. Concerning parental leave, a principle of non-transferability should be applied to increase take up from fathers and age of children should be raised. Together with legislative measures, COFACE calls for a monitoring and benchmarking system for care services provision within the EU semester and policy guidance for implementing better flexible working arrangements at Member States and company levels.
COFACE would strongly highlight that all these measures must have an internal coherence so to be able to provide adequate support to families along the life-cycle becoming safety nets, preventing situations of vulnerability and poverty.