The European Commission recently announced new legislation to address work-life balance and women’s underrepresentation in the labour market. Across the EU, the overall rate of employment of women is still 11.5 percentage points lower than that of men and it estimates that the economic loss due to the gender employment gap is around EUR 370bn per year; despite the fact that women tend to out-perform men in terms of educational achievement. The Commission therefore proposed a new Directive, to set new minimum standards for EU member states and “modernize” the existing EU legal framework in the area of family related leaves and flexible working arrangements. The Directive will have the effect of introducing compensated paternity leave; strengthening the existing rights to parent leave; introducing carer’s leave; and extending the right to request flexible working arrangements. To complement the Directive, amongst other things, the Commission proposes to make “better use of European funds to improve provision of formal care services (childcare, out-of-school care and long-term care)” and to remove “economic disincentives for second earners which prevent women from accessing the labour market or working full-time.”

The Commission sees this as not only increasing women’s employment and boosting higher earnings and career progression for them, but benefiting businesses by widening the talent pool and bringing a more motivated and productive labor force, with less absenteeism.

Some member states may already offer a more generous legal framework for managing work-life balance than the EU Commission proposes, but these measures are seen as “creating more convergence between EU member states, by preserving and extending existing rights”. The proposed Directive has been adopted by the European Council and is now in effect. Member states have 3 years to adopt the necessary laws to comply with it.