On 11 October, the Committee of the Regions organised a workshop to assess the potential impact of the Commission's work-life balance package on the EU’s cities and regions. EUROCITIES took part in this workshop together with two city representatives from Vienna and Malmo.
2017 brought work-life balance back on the EU agenda. It is well-known that women are under-represented in the labour market. One of the main reasons is the unbalanced sharing of family caring responsibilities between men and women, which has a direct impact on female employment. Gender employment gap costs Europe €370 billion per year, according to a recent Eurofound study. One key driver of this gap is the insufficient and unaffordable childcare, out-of-school and long-term care services, which are in the power of cities to improve.
In the European Pillar of Social Rights, published on 26 April 2017, work-life balance is a separate principle under the second chapter on fair working conditions. Principle 9 of the social pillar states: “Parents and people with caring responsibilities have the right to suitable leave, flexible working arrangements and access to care services.”
In addition, on the same day in April, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive on work-life balance for parents and carers. This proposal aims to replace the framework agreement on parental leave revised by the EU social partners and adopted by the Council of the EU as a Directive in 2010. This legislative initiative is the first deliverable of the European Pillar of Social Rights as it sets to enforce one of its principles. The amendments proposed are the following:
- introduction of a 'paternity leave' of 10 working days for the birth of a child
- introduction of a four-month ‘parental leave’ for each parent (non-transferable) - this can be flexible (full-time, part-time and interrupted) until the age of 12 years of the child
- ‘carers’ leave entitlement to 5 days each year to care for seriously ill or dependent family members
- entitlement to reduced working hours, flexible working arrangements, such as flexible working hours and flexibility in the workplace; the system of entitlement should be combined with a right to return to full-time work
- the rights on leave should be at least at the level of sick pay remuneration.
In parallel with the directive proposal, the European Commission also presented a Communication on a non-legislative initiative to promote the reconciliation of work and private life of working parents and carers. The communication proposes three action areas:
- improved and gender-neutral inclusion of family leave and flexible working arrangements
- improve the quality, affordability and access to childcare and long-term care
- identify and discourage financial disincentives for parents and caregivers
While the leave rights are the competence of national governments, cities can promote work-life balance by developing and implementing policies that support work-life balance, especially in terms of public services for childcare, long-term care, education, social services and employment.
The workshop organised by the Committee of the Regions found that the work-life balance package could have a positive impact on cities. With more affordable and flexible services available for childcare and long-term care in cities, more women could return to work. This could reduce the skills mismatch, leading to an increase in competitiveness and productivity as well as in GDP of the city. It would also reduce structural discrimination of young women on the labour market, thus creating the conditions for more inclusive and cohesive cities.
Cities will discuss and exchange on measures for work-life balance during one of the workshops organised at the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum on 25-26 October 2017 in Gothenburg.