Marianne Thyssen & Vera Jourová

EU Commissioner for Employment & Social Affairs

A better work life balance for Europe's future

Tuesday 09th May 2017

‘How can I combine my private and professional life?’ – All parents and carers are confronted with this basic question more than once in their career. And this is especially true for women. Today, women are still more likely to stay home to take care of their children or elderly relatives than men. In 2015, the employment rate of women was 11.6pp lower than that of men. The employment rate of women with one child under six was another 8.8pp lower than women without young children, and one in three women worked part-time as opposed to less than one in 10 men.

At the same time, women across the EU are increasingly well qualified, and there are more women university graduates than men. In addition, every European country has to cope with an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. Out of both fairness and economic necessity, we have to make it easier for women and men, all working parents and carers, to combine their careers with their private life. Our aim is to give them more choice and flexibility to organise themselves. Having more women in the labour market is a double win. It’s good for companies who can attract and keep talented and motivated employees, and it helps to reduce the risk of women falling into poverty by decreasing the gender pension gap which stands at 40 per cent in Europe today.

The world of work is changing and often we see this mainly as a challenge. But let us also think of the opportunities: digitalisation, for instance, creates new possibilities for remote work and flexible schedules. With our proposal to improve work-life balance, we want to make use of these developments and promote flexible working arrangements. In addition, the proposal aims at supporting Member States to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of childcare and long-term care services.

We also propose to set better standards for parental leave and introduce EU rules on paternity leave so that fathers get at least 10 days off following the birth of their child, in both cases compensated at sick-pay level. The new rules will also guarantee that working carers can take at least five days a year off to take care of their children or ill relatives, and that this is compensated at least at sick-pay level. We have chosen to give families more flexible leave arrangements, so that we do not only make the life of working parents and carers easier, but also achieve a better distribution of caring responsibilities

A better balance between professional and private life is not only good for families, but it will bring about many other advantages: enhanced gender equality on the labour market and better use of all talent available will benefit companies, Member States and the economy as a whole. Making sure that the burden of caring responsibilities doesn't fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women will help to tackle the economic loss of €370 billion every year that we face due to the gender employment gap. By working closely with the Member States, social partners and stakeholders, we are convinced that this proposal can make a real difference in many working parents' and carers' daily lives.

Op-ed by Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, and Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová 

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