Commission seeks right balance of life and work

More needs to be done to achieve a better balance between private and professional life, in particular for women, argues the Commission. Social partners have been asked to comment.

The Commission thinks that there is a “case for further action at the community level”. In its 12 October 2006 first-stage consultation of European social partners on reconciliation of professional, private and family life, it says:  “in order to address demographic challenges, raise the quantitative and qualitative level of participation of women in the labour market, and encourage women and men to take an equal share of caring responsibilities”. The Commission wants to explore what can be done to improve the situation concerning leave for childcare, dare for the elderly and disabled and care facilities for children. 

In order to define which kinds of action can or should be taken, the Commission asked social partners the following questions: 

  • Do you consider that there is a need for further action on reconciliation between professional, private and family life in the European Union? If you consider action to be necessary, should such action be undertaken at Community level, national level, enterprise or sectoral level?
  • What are the main areas in which improvements could be needed, taking into consideration in particular: 
    1) working time and flexible working arrangements; 
    2) new possibilities offered by information technologies; 
    3) availability and quality of childcare and care services for the elderly and other dependants; 
    4) leave, including paternity leave ‘and leave to care for an elderly parent or a child or other family member with a disability? 
  • By which means do you consider that better reconciliation between professional life and private and family life could be achieved? 
  • Do you consider the existing Community legislation (notably on parental leave and protection of maternity) adequate to help meet the needs for reconciliation between professional and private and family obligations and to create the conditions for more equal sharing of professional, private ‘and family responsibilities between women and men? 
  • How can the best balance be struck between the costs and benefits – for both individuals and companies – of measures permitting reconciliation of professional, private and family life?  

As greater job mobility, careers with numerous different employers and more flexible working times become a reality, the question also becomes more pressing how working time, which tends to be more fragmented, can be reconciled with family and private lives, with being socially active and leading a lifestyle that is not detrimental to health. This need occurs even stronger for women, who typically do much more unpaid and unsecured work in the household, a more likely to work on part-time, take longer baby breaks, etc. 

In April 2004, the Commission proposed a directive on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation, which, following its approval by Parliament and Council, was published in the Official Journal on 5 July 2006. 

The Commission also voiced its intention "to designate the area of reconciliation between work and private live as one of its priority objectives in the roadmap for equality between women and men", naming parental leave, flexible working arrangements and care facilities as main areas for political action to be taken. 

The European Council acknowledged the need for an overall better work-life balance in its 23 - 24 March 2006 Council Conclusions. It also approved the European Pact for Gender Equality proposed by the governments of Sweden, France, Spain, Finland, the Czech Republic and Denmark. The pact has as one of its three main objectives "to meet the demographic challenges by promoting better work-life balance for women and men." Similar calls went out from the European Parliament and the European Social Partners

On 17 October 2006, the European Foundation for the improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) will organise a seminar entitled "Working time and work-life balance: a policy dilemma?"

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