A new EU Work-Life Balance Directive has recently been agreed. The ultimate aim of this Directive is to improve gender equality by easing access to work-life balance arrangements for parents and carers and to boost the participation of men in family-related leaves of absence or flexible working arrangements. Trade Unions sought stronger rights in some cases such as a minimum European threshold for payment and paid carers’ leave, however, it is a very positive development for working parents and carers and represents real progress.
The Directive provides for changes to Parental Leave, which had partly been anticipated by our government in Budget 2018 and who recently announced that it will be introducing a paid Parental Leave Scheme gradually from November 2019. This scheme will provide for paid Parental Leave for each parent of a child under one, whether employed or self-employed. Initially, the leave will be for two weeks increasing to seven weeks over the next three years. This is in addition to existing maternity, paternity and adoptive leave entitlements. The payment will be at the same rate as for Maternity Benefit and Paternity Benefit.
The EU Directive extends from one to two non-transferable (“use it or lose it basis”) months of Parental Leave which should be paid. It is hoped this will encourage fathers to take more time off work to care for their children than has been the case up to now. The evidence shows that when fathers take a more significant and meaningful share in the parenting of their children it has positive benefits for families and for society as a whole. By encouraging more fathers to take time off, we are in a position to challenge the existing culture regarding work and gender. The legislation will also enable male same-sex couples to receive adoptive leave and benefit.
Five working days of Carers’ Leave per year is also provided for in the European Directive, unfortunately without any obligation for the leave to be paid. This leave is for the purpose of assisting a relative who has a serious condition or because of age.
The Directive also introduces the right for parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements to which employers must respond and provide a justification (in the case of refusal).