Caring cuts women’s incomes – a Work-Life Balance Directive would compensate

The European Commission’s proposed Work-Life Balance Directive would guarantee paid paternity leave, paid time off to care for family members, extended paid parental leave and the right to request flexible working arrangements. This would give new rights to working people in every EU country.

These provisions are vital to reducing the pay and income gap between women and men in Europe. According to Eurostat, the main reason for women in Europe not going to work is having to look after sick children or relatives with long-term illnesses. Studies show that women in Europe spend twice as long on caring and domestic chores as men – even if the men are unemployed and the women are in work.

Paid leave would enable more women to take up employment, and more men to get involved in the lives of their children. New rights would avoid some women having to give up work and would boost gender equality.

Increasing women’s labour force participation is of paramount importance for Europe: not only a question of justice but also an economic necessity. The EU employment rate for women aged 20-64 is 64.3%. That is 11.6 percentage points lower than men in the same age group and 11.7% lower than the EU2020 target. Eurofound has estimated the cost of the gender employment gap in the EU to be €370 billion per year across the Member States. This is a question of Europe’s future prosperity, because gender equality is an engine for growth and inequality inhibits economic development.

National impacts
If adopted the new Directive will strengthen rights in many Member States, according to a study commissioned by the ETUC:
• paid paternity leave of 10 days would be new in Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, and Slovakia;
• 4 months paid and non-transferable parental leave would improve rights in Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK;
• 5 days paid carers’ leave would make life easier for working people caring for dependent relatives in countries including France, Romania and Malta.
• The right to request flexible working arrangements improves conditions in most EU Member States, especially Cyprus, Estonia, and Romania.

This opportunity must not be missed. “The draft Work-Life Balance Directive would make a real improvement to the lives of working women and carers,” said Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). “But some governments are resisting it. We strongly urge Member States not to put budgetary or subsidiarity concerns before gender equality and workers’ rights.”

The draft EU Directive on Work-Life balance is due to be discussed by Employment Ministers on March 15. On International Women’s Day on 8 March, trade unionists across Europe are demanding its swift adoption.