Social partners sign deal to boost parental leave

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Parental leave will be increased from three to four months and will apply to all employees regardless of the type of contract, according to an agreement signed yesterday (18 June) by social partners in presence of Vladimír Špidla, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities.

The new Framework Agreement on family leave was signed yesterday (18 June) by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP) and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME).

It is the first time that European social partners have agreed to revise a pre-existing Framework Agreement. The new agreement increases parental leave from three to four months for each parent. Moreover, one of the four months shall be non-transferrable between the parents “to encourage a more equal take-up of leave by both parents,” says the text.

According to the agreement, parental leave should apply to “all workers, men and women, who have an employment contract or employment relationship as defined by the law,” regardless of their type of contract (fixed-term, part-time, temporary work, etc.).

“At the end of parental leave, workers shall have the right to return to the same job or, if that is not possible, to an equivalent or similar job consistent with their employment contract or employment relationship,” reads the text. Moreover, parents returning to work have the opportunity to request a change to their working conditions (working hours, for example).

Finally, the new agreement increases protection not just against dismissal but also against unfavourable treatment as a result of exercising the right to parental leave.

Parents who have adopted a child are also eligible to benefit from parental leave under the new rules.

Parents on leave will continue receiving a salary according to their national social security system, social partners said.

The European Commission must now examine the agreement. Before the summer, it will submit a proposal to the Council for implementation. The directive must be adopted by a qualified majority in the Council. 

"This agreement proves that the European social partnership works and delivers concrete results for workers and companies in Europe," stated Vladimír Špidla, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities.

"This agreement specifically addresses one of the priority objectives of gender equality and shows a determination to find ways of improving the balance between family and working life, while at the same time taking account of the diversity of national regulatory frameworks, practices and traditions," he added.

"Women should be able to work to get financial autonomy, without being penalised for being mothers. Fathers should be encouraged to be more often engaged, to share with mothers the rights and duties of familial responsibilities," Špidla stressed.

BusinessEurope Secretary-General Philippe de Buck  insisted that social partners had worked on the agreement "in an autonomous way". "The flexibility at the end of the parental leave to be in contact again with work life is very important for employees, but also for employers who have to organise their human resources," he said.

"A lot remains to be done to implement at national level this agreement according to national legislations," he concluded.

"We have made a significant step with this revision agreement," said John Monks, general Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). "For many workers in Europe, it's very difficult to conciliate private and working life. The initial agreement in 1995 brought a lot of countries up to better level, and this revision takes forward the issue of the extra month," he said.

"We have reached a good compromise which allows for more flexibility and more certainty for employers," said Ralf Resch, secretary-general of the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP).

He insisted that this first revision of the pre-existing Framework Agreement demonstrates that "social dialogue is alive, even in a time of crisis, and can provide concrete solutions to employers and workers across Europe". "We cannot afford to lose qualified employees," Resch added.

Andrea Benassi, secretary-general of the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), underlined that "this agreement takes into consideration the evolution of society". He said that UEAPME will invite its "national members to ask governments to take care of the specific situation of small companies," underlining that this agreement would give a better framework for such cases. 

A first agreement on parental leave was signed between social partners in December 1995, establishing a three-month period.

The agreement was followed by the adoption of an EU directive a year later.

Despite the successful transposition of the directive in all EU member states and the creation of common ground for improving work-life balance in Europe, the benefits it could have achieved on work-life balance have not entirely met.

To redress the situation, the EU executive and social partners agreed to review the framework agreement. After two stages of consultation, which started in 2006 between the European Commission and social partners on reconciling private, working and family life, the parties worked for six months on amending the text. 

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