Work life balance is about the division of one’s time and focus between work and family or leisure activities. There are a number of public policies and legislation affecting work life balance for workers across Europe. These especially relate to birth, parental and carer’s leave, flexible working hours and accommodation of working hours and duties, child care and tax benefit systems.
Work life balance affects gender equality in many ways, and in particular when it comes to the role of parents. For example, if there is no accessible child care or working hours are rigid, one of the parents might find it necessary to work part time or not work at all to take care of home and children.
Work life balance measures also affect religious employees or employees with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, because they may be in particular need of flexibility and accommodation in their work situation. Furthermore, employees with responsibility for elderly family members or others in need of care can also benefit from good work life balance policies.
Due to traditional gender norms, caring responsibilities are very often taken up by women. This impacts on their access to the labour market and paid employment, career progression, economic independence, equal pay and equal participation in decision-making and society at large.
Reconciliation of work and family life and work life balance are issues of concern to many equality bodies and have been a focus for important initiatives by a number of them. The Equinet Perspective Equality Bodies Promoting Work-Life Balance For All (2013) gives an overview of the work of and challenges encountered by equality bodies in this area.
Work on this issue has involved a particular focus on eliminating discrimination where women have been denied access to the workplace or returned to poorer working conditions on foot of their pregnancy or after taking up maternity leave.
Alongside the launch of the European Pillar of Social Rights in April 2017, the European Commission presented its Work Life Balance Package including both legislative and non-legislative measures . The package does not address the question of maternity leave.
Of particular interest is the proposed Directive on Work Life Balance which sets a number of minimum standards for parental, paternity and carer’s leave. The proposal is an ambitious step towards equal sharing of caring responsibilities, better participation of men and improved protection against discrimination of workers who have taken paternity, parental or carers’ leave.
Equinet and equality bodies strongly welcome this proposal, and suggest the European Parliament and Council of the EU to keep its level of ambition throughout the negotiations.
Equinet would also welcome additional reference to the necessity for Member States to take all measures to ensure the body or bodies are independent and allocated adequate powers, functions and resources to implement their mandate within the scope of this Directive.The clarification of this article is necessary to ensure equality bodies have a broad mandate to promote and support the achievement of full equality in practice.