Will the EU's work-life balance package be the first in a long line of social rights legislation?

New EU measures a first attempt to finally respond to the needs of families, says European families network chief.

Will the EU's work-life balance package be the first in a long line of social rights legislation? | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Liz Gosme

26 Apr 2017

Today the European Commission is releasing the European Pillar of Social Rights, in the form of a European Commission recommendation listing key principles for driving the future EU social policy agenda. 

One of these principles focuses on work-life balance: "Parents and people with caring responsibilities have the right to suitable leave, flexible working arrangements and access to care services. Women and men shall have equal access to special leaves of absence in order to fulfil their caring responsibilities and be encouraged to use them in a balanced way."

This principle is supported by the publication today of a first ever comprehensive package of legislative and non-legislative measures to promote the work-life balance of families, with a view to "modernise the existing European Union legal and policy framework to support better work-life balance for men and women with caring responsibilities and a more equal use of leave and flexible work arrangements." 


This includes the first ever proposal for a comprehensive EU directive to improve the work-life balance of parents and carers that preserves and builds on existing rights in particular under the parental leave directive. The following new rights are proposed:

•    possibility for flexible uptake (piecemeal and part-time) of the four months entitlement to parental leave paid at sick pay level; the four months entitlement can be taken up until the child reaches the age of 12 and cannot be transferred between parents;
•    an entitlement to 10 working days of paternity leave when a child is born, paid at sick pay level;
•    an entitlement to five days of leave paid at sick pay level per year per worker to take care of seriously ill or dependent relatives;
•    a right to request flexible working arrangements for parents of children up to 12 years old and workers with caring responsibilities.

COFACE Families Europe has been pushing the EU for years now to recognise the social, economic and demographic needs of our societies to meet the pressing challenge of work-life balance, calling on the EU to recognise the current societal shift in parenting and working roles.

The shift of families towards more dual earners with dual, or multiple carer needs (for children, older family members, relatives with disability, or other support needs) is leading to new 21st century challenges for families such as reconciling family and work, parental burnout, and more) and the need for modernised 21st century family policies focusing on a reconciliation policy mix of resources-services-time. 

It is clear from the package of measures published today that the European Union is making a first attempt finally to respond concretely to the needs of families. 

Families across Europe are struggling and we are fighting for and with them. Moreover, businesses will benefit from parents and carers who can better reconcile their family, care and work life. This proposal responds to a real need and shows that the Commission wants to deliver for its citizens. 

It is now up to the elected MEPs in the European Parliament and governments in Council to show the same commitment 

We acknowledge the need for a balance between the general non-binding strategic framework for EU social and employment policy measures provided by the proposed European Pillar of Social Rights, while proposing concrete binding measures to drive the 20 Pillar principles forward now and in the near future. 

We expect the work-life balance package to be the first in a long line of pillar packages, to address all the social and employment challenges faced by EU countries, not least the need to include people with disabilities in all aspects of life, the need to develop adequate childcare and long-term care services, reinforcing gender equality, and promoting access to basic financial services.

Our network will now take stock, internally in COFACE Families Europe and externally with key stakeholders at our Families on the Move conference on 12 May in Brussels. We represent millions of families across the EU and with our members we will work at all levels, in Brussels and in member states to ensure that the proposed work-life balance directive is successfully approved without being watered down or emptied of its much needed content by European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Moreover, we will strive to make the European Pillar of Social Rights a strong social policy framework that can bring real change for the most deprived European citizens.