ONE YEAR AFTER THE PROCLAMATION OF THE PILLAR OF SOCIAL RIGHTS, IT’S TIME TO ACT FOR CARERS: THE EU MUST ADOPT THE WORK LIFE BALANCE DIRECTIVE PROVIDING A CONCRETE RIGHT TO LEAVE FOR CARERS.
The Commission’s proposed ‘Work-Life Balance’ Directive is one of the first deliverables of the European Pillar for Social Rights proclaimed on 17 November 2017. It is based on the 'New Start' initiative aimed to address the work-life balance challenges faced by working parents and carers. The initiative will help in the pursuit of the objectives set out in the Treaty of equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and equal treatment at work and the promotion of high level of employment in the EU.
The legislative proposal thus aims to focus on targeting measures to address the under-representation of women in employment by improving the conditions of reconciling working and private duties, but also their unequal treatment and opportunities in the labour market. Furthermore, it encourages the strengthening of men's roles as carers in the family, which will also benefit children. It is well documented that the use of work-life balance arrangements by fathers, has a positive impact in reducing the relative amount of unpaid family work undertaken by women and leaving them more time for paid employment.
The proposed Directive in its current form aims to cover all workers, men and women, who have an employment contract or employment relationship.
It seeks to introduce a number of new or higher minimum standards for parental, paternity and carers’ leave, which are geared at helping to address the anomalies that exist in achieving a work life balance for both parents and carers.
Importantly, alongside measures primarily targeting parents of young children, the proposed Directive foresees new rights for informal carers, namely:
- The introduction of a carers' leave for workers caring for seriously ill or dependent relatives. Working carers would be able to take 5 days per year, compensated at least at sick pay level.
- The extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements (reduced working hours, flexible working hours and flexibility in place of work) to all working parents of children up to 12 and carers with dependent relatives.
In August 2018, the European Parliament adopted a report supporting the Commission’ proposal. MEP David Casa, Rapporteur, welcomed the proposal to introduce a right to carer's leave for workers caring for seriously ill or dependant relatives, allowing them to take 5 days per year, compensated at least at the level of sick pay. In addition, he proposed that carers leaves are instead paid at least equivalent to 75% of the worker’s gross wage.
Yet, as it stands and despite strong support from the European Parliament, ongoing negotiations at Council level indicate that only the principle of the right to a carers’ leave might remain in the final directive since national ministries have now settled on a general approach in which both the minimum number of days and level of compensation have been deleted – thereby drastically reducing the level of ambition shown by the EC proposal. Member States while agreeing on the principle of the carers’ leave, state that the condition of implementation of such a right– including the duration and level of financial compensation - should be defined ‘in national legislation or practice’ (see the General approach on the Proposed Directive as agreed by the Council on the 25th June 2018). It should be noted that while the original EC proposal was largely seen by the community of stakeholders as a positive step forward in the recognition of carers’ role and support to reconcile their care responsibilities with an active working life, some approached it as a relatively modest effort to meet the numerous needs of carers. The provision of 5 days per year is indeed the absolute minimum that carers who are struggling to remain on the labour market should be able to access to remain healthy and productive.
Adopting a right to a carers’ leave at EU level would be seen by the millions of carers across Europe as a very constructive and long-awaited policy initiative to acknowledge their important role and to improve their daily life. Avoiding to set concrete minimum standards may undermine this laudable attempt by allowing member states to implement tokenistic measures, thereby rendering such a ‘right’ to a carer’s leave a virtual benefit for most carers. This would be a pity at a time when daily news reminds us that citizens badly need the European Union to demonstrate its added value on the quality of their daily life, and on the protection of against vulnerability. Care and caring are key elements of a more Social Europe,
WE THEREFORE DEMAND THAT HEADS OF STATES AND GOVERNMENTS ADOPT A WORK-LIFE DIRECTIVE THAT INCLUDES A CARERS’ LEAVE BASED ON AMBITIOUS STANDARDS OF DURATION AND PAYMENT:
5 DAYS, COMPENSATED AT LEAST AT SICK PAY LEVEL, AS PROPOSED BY THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION