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3: European Commission consults on work/life balance

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3: European Commission consults on work/life balance
Leave your thoughts Tim Hayes

By Tim Hayes

The European Commission launched a consultation recently on addressing the potential problems employees around Europe, particularly women, face in achieving a reasonable work/life balance when they are caring for dependents.

The consultation notes that women are becoming increasingly well-qualified and are even out-performing men in certain sectors of the employment market. However, despite existing EU legislation and measures such as financial support to improve work-life balance, women continue to bear more of the responsibility for childcare than men, are more likely to work part time (often involuntarily) and are generally under-represented in the labour market and over-represented in low-paid/skilled work.

The consultation, which closes on 17 February 2016, is part of the Commission’s ‘Roadmap’ which it published in August 2015 as part of an initiative called “A new start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families“. As well as possible changes in the law, the Roadmap outlines possible alternatives such as comprehensive policy guidance to member states in the area of work-life balance, reinforced monitoring, better use of EU funds and knowledge-sharing activities.

The Background Document for the Consultation cites a number of issues which might be driving the imbalance between the sexes when it comes to childcare and work, chiefly the absence of sufficiently flexible leave arrangements and the absence of affordable, quality childcare.

The UK is certainly no stranger to the second of those potential problems; many of the obstacles to achieving parity for men and women on the issue of combining work with care for dependents continue to be of a financial nature. Shared parental leave, for example, whilst a welcome development, is in practice only viable for fathers who can afford the significant drop in their salary during the shared parental leave period (unless they can benefit from more favourable contractual paternity benefits). The cost of childcare in the UK and the continuing gender pay imbalance have also meant that the financial incentives for mothers to stay at home remain powerful. In a wider EU context, another probable reason behind work/life imbalances is high unemployment in many countries, particularly those in the Eurozone, which may have led to a degree of reluctance among employees to assert whatever rights they have to take leave or work flexibly given the precariousness of the labour market.

The consultation comes at a time when gender imbalance in the labour market seems to be firmly back on the agenda. The World Economic Forum released a report recently asserting that it would take another 118 years to close the gender pay gap and that progress on narrowing the gap had stalled in recent years. The report also lists the countries with the narrowest and widest gender pay gaps. For those seeking the most egalitarian countries, prepare to don some warm clothing and head north as the bulk of the top 5 are Nordic, with fifth place for Rwanda. As for the UK, the Office for National Statistics said this week that the pay gap has barely narrowed at all over the last 4 years and stands at around £100 per week. It is unclear what, if any, impact there will be from the forthcoming obligation on companies with over 250 employees to report on the gender pay gap in their organisations.

If you would like the Commission to hear your voice on the issue of work/life balance click here. Alternatively, you could always feed back to us and we can then collate your responses and feed back to the Commission before the deadline. The other option is simply to comment on our blog below!

30 November 2015

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