Czech Republic seeks solutions to gender pay gap, with EU help

A kindergarten in the Czech Republic [Aktuálně.cz]

How to manage a career while raising children? Children’s clubs funded by the EU could be part of the solution. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to increase women’s participation in the labour market.

The article was originally published on 6 February at Aktuálně.cz, EURACTIV.cz’s media partner.

Maternity leave means a career break for many European women. Even after returning to work, they do not earn as much as men – for example, the average monthly pay for Czech women is €400 lower than men’s.

Czech Republic has the second largest gender pay gap in the EU, right after Estonia. According to the Czech Statistical Office, the biggest gap occurs when women return to work after maternity leave.

That is why the EU wants to support women’s position in the labour market. Czech mothers can, for instance, benefit from children’s clubs which are funded by the EU. They are not only free of charge but their opening hours are much more flexible.

The European Commission also proposed the Work-Life Balance Directive last year to extend existing rights for working parents.

“Concretely, the directive seeks to introduce minimum periods of paternal leave around the time of the birth of a child, provide each parent with non-transferable periods of parental and increase the possibility of flexible working arrangements”, explained directive rapporteur David Casa (EPP).

Longer paternal leave and other benefits for parents

The proposed directive includes the introduction of minimum 10 days paternity leave around the time of birth of the child. This paternity leave should be compensated at least at the level of sick pay.

Both parents should also have the possibility to take four months of compensated parental leave until the child is 12 years old. This leave period should be non-transferable from one parent to another and the Commission hopes that it could motivate fathers to benefit from it. Nowadays parental leave is mostly used by women.

In the matter of flexible working arrangements mentioned by MEP Casa, parents should have the possibility to request it, but the employer would not be obliged to comply.

The Work-Life Balance Directive is now in the hands of MEPs from the EMPL committee. After their amendments, the proposal proceeds to the plenary vote and has to be approved by the member states as well.

While the proposal is discussed in the European Parliament, some criticism appeared, too. According to the European trade association of hotels, restaurants and cafés (HOTREC), more flexibility introduced by the directive could deepen skills shortages in their sector.

BusinessEurope, a lobby group representing enterprises, holds a similar view claiming that the main impact of “the European Commission’s legislative proposal on work-life balance will be to encourage more parents and carers, men and women,not to work.“

Children’s clubs for free

The Work-Life Balance Directive is not the only tool with which the EU could help mothers return to the labour market. There are already existing children’s clubs funded by the EU in the Czech Republic.

“The objective of our project is to solve the unbalance between family life and parents’ careers,” said Renata Rejchová, who took part in the children’s club Studnice foundation.

She brought up an issue that all mothers share – who will look after her children if she wants to work, when school clubs or kindergartens have limited opening hours.

The solution was to establish children’s clubs which would meet working parents’ needs.

The other requirement was to attend a club which is free of charge because many parents cannot afford such a service.

That is why Rejchová applied for EU funds.

“Now the capacity of the club is 25 children and it is permanently full,” Rejchová said.

Children are looked after by five tutors. It is equipped with a gym and there is also a big garden or relaxation room. Children attending the club can play games there as well as musical instruments.

Because of EU funding, the club is also subject to controls.

Clubs for pre-schoolers

Children’s club Studnice, located in Plzeň, is for those in primary school. But smaller children have their clubs as well which are becoming much more popular. Last year there were more than 400 registered clubs, according to the  minister of labour.

“Children’s clubs for pre-schoolers are an increasingly popular alternative service of children’s care. Children attend those clubs as soon as they turn one,” the labour ministry said.

Both children’s clubs, for pre-schoolers and primary school pupils, are funded by the European social fund. But not everyone who applies receives it.

“People are interested in this kind of subsidies. The fact that there were so many applications in the first hours of the call that it highly exceeded its allocation, proves it,” explained EU funds expert Petr Navařík from the consulting company Erste Grantika Advisory.

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