ETUC's Position on the First stage consultation of the Social Partners at Community level on the Reconciliation of Professional, Private and Family Life

Brussels, 07-08 December 2006

On 20 October 2006, the European Commission formally consulted the European social partners on the reconciliation of professional, private and family life. This is the first stage of the consultation process and is one of the follow up measures put forward by the Commission in its recent Communication on Demography, to respond to the demographic challenge which the EU is facing.

This response reflects the position of the ETUC on the specific consultation regarding reconciliation of work, private and family life. It has to be read in conjunction with our previous position on the Green Paper on demographic change[[Confronting demographic change: a new solidarity between the generations ETUC Contribution to the debate started by the Green Paper, 14-15 June 2005
]]. The ETUC will also prepare, at a later stage, a response to the Commission's Communication on the demographic future of Europe, addressing the range of wider issues involved.

I. Consensus at EU level on the importance of policies promoting work-life balance.

}}The issue of care and reconciliation of private and professional life has been on the European political agenda for some time and the European Commission has also previously consulted the social partners on this issue. Recent initiatives include:

- European Council of Barcelona in 2002 - agreement on specific targets for the provision of childcare as part of the EES

- Adoption of a guideline on reconciliation in the Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs adopted in July 2005
- Adoption of the European Commission's EU Roadmap for Equality between women and men in 2006, which highlights the importance of reconciliation of work and family life and calls for flexible working arrangements for women and men
- Endorsement of the European Pact for Gender Equality at the European Spring Council 2006, whereby MS have committed to measures which include the achievement of the Barcelona targets, improvement of the provision of care facilities for other dependants and the promotion of parental leave for both women and men
}}Furthermore the European Social Partners have also taken action in this area, having negotiated both the Parental Leave and Part Time Work Directives in the past, and more recently with the jointly agreed Framework of Actions on Gender Equality, which highlights the issue as one of the 4 priority areas for action. Included amongst the initiatives which should be considered are: flexible working arrangements for women and men; promotion of a more balanced take up of the various possibilities on offer; jointly approaching public authorities to develop instruments to increase the availability and accessibility of care facilities.

The ETUC therefore welcomes the Commission's decision to launch a consultation on this topic, as despite the fact that much has been done so far, both by the European and national public authorities, and by the social partners, more needs to be done at various levels including at EU level, and such a consultation can facilitate this. The Commission has indicated that depending on the responses received in this first round of consultation, it will put forward some concrete proposals for EU action in 2007. These will form the basis for a second stage consultation of the social partners.

The ETUC's response to this consultation can be divided into the following categories:

- The need to make gender equality and work/life balance central to the debate on demographic change, while recognizing the diversity of 21st century family patterns;
- An evaluation of existing legislation (some of them based on social partner agreements) and proposals to modernise and upgrade certain parts and elements (Parental Leave Directive, Maternity Protection Directive, Part Time Work Directive, Working Time Directive);
- The need to introduce new legislation and/or to take other measures in certain areas (such as a right to paternity leave and leave for adoption);
- Mainstreaming work/life balance in working time regulation, policies and arrangements;
- Stepping up actions and measures to enhance the availability, quality and accessibility of care services (childcare, eldercare, care of dependents);
- Campaigns to encourage men to share household and care tasks at home and to avail of arrangements and provisions;
- Initiatives to ensure that commitments made at the EU and national level to reach certain employment related targets are met, including addressing the quality of women's employment in care and household services.

{{II. Gender policies are essential for demographic renewal

}}According to the recent Communication of the Commission on the demographic future of Europe, over the next decade the working age population will begin to decline. However, the total number of persons in work in the EU will continue to increase until around 2017, mainly because of the higher participation rate of women in work, and older women gradually being replaced by better-educated younger women with greater involvement in working life. This creates, according to the Commission, a window of opportunity permitting the implementation of reforms before the effects of population aging make themselves fully felt. {{ {
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According to the ETUC, there is an urgent need to join forces at all relevant levels to make use of this window of opportunity. However, to be able to do that with positive results, the current contradictory demands on women, men and families, often accompanied by counterproductive policies and (lack of) measures, need to be urgently addressed and replaced by more consistent and proactive policies. {{ {
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}}To do this, two main scenarios are possible{{ {:
} }}a) Scenario 1: Adding women to the picture:
The focus is on increasing women's participation in labour markets that are mainly geared towards the traditional concept of a worker being male, available on a full time basis, whose personal needs are taken care of by ‘invisible hands' (women) organising his home and his family; in this picture unpaid work is neither seen nor valued;
The decision to have children is seen as a private/individual matter, and therefore the costs of raising children and combining work with family life is primarily seen as an individual burden, for which people can receive ‘support';
The family is mainly perceived as the traditional nuclear family (husband, wife and children);
Working life is a linear biography, based on the male model of work, in which the elderly are mostly perceived as a burden on pension systems and should be convinced to work longer;
The focus is on providing women with individual solutions to cope with reconciliation, such as part time and flexitime work arrangements, child care facilities etc, while not challenging the fundamental division of labour between women and men at home nor at the workplace.
The consequence of this scenario is: a continuation of the traditional division of labour between men and women at home, and segregation at the workplace. The burden of adjustment is mostly on individual women. In the short term the advantage seems to be that there are low visible costs or investments.
However, in the long term there is a high price to pay, in terms of low fertility, stagnation in labour market participation and shortages on the labour market, persistent gender gaps in terms of pay, pension rights etc, and insufficient utilisation of female human capital.

b) Scenario 2: Choosing structural change:
The focus is on redefining the concept of a ‘standard' worker, as a person who, at various stages in his/her life will have to take care of children and/or relatives and/or parents, and is therefore never available on a “full time” (i.e. unlimited time) basis; the degree to which a worker has such burdens may however differ throughout a life course; in this scenario, unpaid work is a dimension of everybody's life, and can be valued as a source of experience
The family is perceived as a diverse concept, including single parent families, same sex couples, three generation units, etc.
The decision to have children is a private matter, but at the same time it is recognised as being in the public interest to create an environment that facilitates this decision. Therefore the costs of raising children and combining work with family life are seen as investments of society in the general interest;
Working life is a flexible biography, covering potentially a variety of realities with alternating periods of high work intensity and lower work intensity; the elderly are seen as a potential resource that should be used to the full;
The focus is on providing men, women and families with support, including incentives to allow them both to have access to various options within the framework of organised public policy, and adapting work organisation to their needs.
The consequence of this scenario is: a gradual change towards a modern division of labour between men and women at home; and diminishing gender gaps in the workplace. The burden of adjustment is more evenly spread on women and men, workplaces and societies. In the short term higher investment is needed. In the long term however much higher benefits will be achieved, in terms of higher fertility, higher labour participation, more gender equality, and full utilisation of male and female human capital.

The first scenario is a ‘compromise' scenario, which currently can be found in many Member States. However, for the ETUC, the choice is clear: the second scenario is the preferred scenario. In our view, this scenario means that gender equality and the ‘reconciliation of professional, private and family life' must be mainstreamed in all policies regarding employment, social security and public and social services.

{{III. General Comments

}}A key prerequisite for gender equality is for women to be able to earn an income that allows for economic independence without being penalised for being potential mothers and carers. This means first of all having access to the labour market and a secure job with a decent income. However, in reality we know that women are particularly at risk of experiencing inequalities in employment and income directly as long as they continue to be primarily responsible for reproduction and caring activities, which impact negatively on women's participation in working life, career advancement, the ability to work full-time, wage levels, pension entitlements etc. This problem is a growing one, especially for the sandwich generation - those who have to combine caring for their children and their elderly parents, with holding down some form of paid employment.

Care policies and the provision of care services are intrinsically linked to the achievement of equality between women and men. The lack of affordable, accessible and high quality care services in most EU countries, the fact that care work is not equally shared between women and men, and the fact that work organisation is not geared towards workers combining work and care have a direct negative impact on women's ability to participate on an equal footing in all aspects of social, economic, cultural and political life.

Giving women better opportunities to fully and equally participate in the labour market, while allowing them to combine that with starting and raising families in shared responsibility with their partners has to be seen as an asset and an investment in economy and society as a whole, particularly in the context of the current demographic changes and challenges in Europe. There is a causal link between the lack of work life balance options in the context of mainstream employment and the decrease in the birth rate.

The consultation paper notes these different aspects, but it falls short of referring to problems caused by extremes in working hours - i.e. excessive full time (over 45 hours per week) and marginal part-time work (under 20 hours per week), and the fact that it is often men who work those excessive hours and women who have short part time contracts, which perpetuates a vicious circle of inequality and segregation at home and in the workplace, and puts stress on families.

The ETUC would like to see greater efforts to put forward measures to promote convergence between too short and too long hours, between the working hours of men and women, and to promote work-life balance for men and women. Reducing long hours and upgrading marginal part time work can be addressed in various ways, including by allowing workers genuine options for adapting their working hours to their needs, within a protective collective or legislative framework. The current debate on the revision of the Working Time Directive should be used to modernise and improve the protection of workers also in this regard, as has been proposed by the European Parliament in its first reading.

The consultation paper also acknowledges that progress has been made at EU level to ensure maternity and parental leave rights for workers. However, the picture across the EU is very varied regarding the policies that support work life balance and the level of protection provided, with every country having its own mix of care services, leave facilities, flexible working time arrangements and financial allowances. This is especially true in terms of the income that accompanies these rights and the take-up by men of their share of family responsibilities.[[ ETUI Report No. 66, Analysis of the implementation of the parental leave directive in the EU Member States, S. Clauwaert, 2000, Brussels
ETUI Report No. 73, Survey on the implementation of the part-time work Directive / Agreement in the EU Member States and selected applicant countries, S. Clauwaert, 2002, Brussels

Within Europe, only a minority of countries have so far achieved a continuity of public responsibility for childcare, addressing children from birth to 10 years. While childcare services for preschoolers (3-6) are often, but not always, available, there is often a dramatic gap when it comes to services for 0-3 year olds and without this coverage, it is very difficult for parents, and especially mothers to balance their work and private lives - often the result is that women change jobs, move to part time, often precarious jobs, or take career breaks and step out of the labour market for a period of time.

Therefore, the provision of good quality care structures for children of all ages must be an essential element of an EU social model and should be provided in the public sector or in public-private partnership under clear public responsibility and be affordable to all those who need them.

Data on care of dependents is scarce and there is a critical lack of provision for the care of older people. However, we know that a large majority of this work is done by women, and is either provided on a voluntary basis or provided in informal employment relationships, including undeclared work. Demand for this type of care is on the increase, and will continue to be, so it is essential that more sustainable policies be developed to support proper employment opportunities for those providing such care, while taking into account that formal care does not substitute but rather complements informal care arrangements by relatives and communities.

The full commitment of EU Member states in the organisation and support of care for all dependants cannot be underestimated. Member States must commit sufficient funds and resources to providing care services and to making possible the full realisation of reconciliation policies. Strong political will on its own is not enough, it must be supported by the introduction of legislation, programmes and resources including budgets for the effective implementation of these measures.

The consultation paper makes no explicit reference to the broader context of care delivery and its effect on care workers and social exclusion, which the ETUC regrets. It is essential that the ongoing restructuring and privatisation of public services does not impact negatively on workers and care service users, a majority of whom are women. A gendered and social analysis of the changes introduced by privatisation is therefore also needed.

}{{IV. Response to specific questions put to social partners.

}}(i) Do you consider that there is a need for further action on reconciliation between professional, private and family life in the European Union? If you consider action to be necessary, should such action be undertaken at Community level, national level, enterprise or sectoral level?

The ETUC considers that there is an urgent need for further action on reconciliation between professional, private and family life in the EU in order to enable women and men to participate fully in both the private and professional spheres of their lives. Reconciliation between professional, private and family life is a pre-condition for achieving genuine gender equality. It is therefore directly linked to the EU's primary goals of tackling discrimination between men and women, and promoting gender equality.

Reaching the Lisbon targets of higher female employment rates, both in terms of quantity as in quality of employment, is impossible without further promoting reconciliation policies in Member States. The EU has an important role in coordinating and stimulating action at national level, and monitoring its effectiveness.

The EU must safeguard against gender equality and reconciliation policies falling victim to national or European economic policies promoting competitiveness, or disadvantaging those Member States that take proactive and elaborate measures. In other words, there is a need to ensure a level playing field between Member States regarding the direct and indirect costs of reconciliation policies.

At European level, the current framework of legislative provisions and policies especially in the area of maternity protection and parental leave, working time and part time work, and childcare, eldercare and other essential household services should be evaluated, to assess where adaptations and improvements are necessary, and to explore where European Social Partners could take initiatives. Whereas the EU in the past has been at the forefront in the promotion of gender equality, currently EU level legislation and policy in this area is lagging behind developments in many Member States.

The EU needs to intensify its actions to promote convergence instead of increasing differentiation and wider gaps between Member States with regard to national policies to support reconciliation. One priority area for action is to tackle the wide differences that exist at national level in the provision of quality, affordable and accessible care (for children, dependants and the elderly) as well as the differences that exist in terms of the extent of and payment during care leave.

In addition, public investment (or the lack of) in public childcare and eldercare services needs to be addressed urgently.

The issue also needs to be tackled from the point of view of working conditions for those employed in the care sector. In this regard, the Commission's proposals in the Gender Equality Road Map 2006-2010 to examine job classification in care services will be of importance.

Reconciliation of work, family and private life is also an indispensable dimension of the organisation of working time. Any revision of the European Working Time Directive will therefore have to take this dimension into account.

More generally, there is an increasing awareness that the issue of health and safety at work, an important area of EU competence, has a strong gender dimension which is related to the division of paid and unpaid work between men and women and the double burden that women are often faced with.[[The gender workplace health gap, Laurent Vogel, publication of the European Trade Union Technical Bureau for Health and Safety TUTB]]

In the upcoming debate on the Green Paper on Labour Law and the related discussion on Flexicurity, an important concern to be addressed is the negative effect on job and employment security for women resulting from interrupted careers and compromise strategies to combine work and care responsibilities, resulting in precarious employment relationships and even poverty.

At the same time, many women providing essential household and care services to other workers or to the sick and the elderly are working in informal employment relationships that do not provide them with proper social protection.

These problems cannot be solved without addressing the issue of reconciliation of work, family and private life in a more comprehensive way at all relevant levels, including the EU level.

(ii) What are the main areas in which improvements could be needed, taking into consideration in particular: 1) working time and flexible working arrangements; 2) new possibilities offered by information technologies; 3) availability and quality of childcare and care services for the elderly and other dependants; 4) leave, including paternity leave and leave to care for an elderly parent or a child or other family member with a disability?

1) Working time and flexible working arrangements: workers need a different kind of flexibility

The regulation of working hours is fundamental to our societies and lies at the heart of Social Europe. It recognizes the need to safeguard the health and safety of workers themselves, and the need to allow working people to raise their families (‘the short term and long term reproduction of the labour force') as crucial to the interests of workers, societies and economies.

Reconciliation is therefore a key issue which underpins the debate on working time - both in terms of excessive working hours and too short working hours, both of which distort women and men's ability to reconcile their work and family life.[[According to the recent working conditions survey of the Dublin Foundation, while 80 % of workers are positive about their work life balance, 44% of those workers working long hours - over 48 hours a week - report being unhappy with their work-life balance (]];[[According to new research, published in October 2006, by the Equal Opportunities Commission in the UK more than 400,000 women could be tempted back into the workplace if employers were willing to offer more flexible working patterns. With over 2 million women in Britain staying at home to look after families and households, that could mean a boost to the workforce of more than 400,000 people. Economists say coaxing more women into work will be critical to defusing the demographic time bomb facing much of Europe, and boosting the long-term growth rate of ageing economies. The payoff could be £20bn a year in the UK alone, according to recent research. Jenny Watson, the EOC's chair, said 'Far too many women find their choices are constrained. They are driven out of rigid, long-hours workplaces they simply find incompatible with having a family or caring for relatives. Our old-fashioned approach to work - in particular to working time - is crying out for reform.']]

However, whereas the focus in many discussions until recently has been mainly on the amount of hours worked as such, there is increasing evidence that the irregularity and unpredictability of working hours (often referred to as ‘flexibility') is becoming an even more problematic issue from the perspective of reconciliation. Working time policies and regulation should therefore explicitly provide for clear limitations to long and irregular hours, while also providing workers with instruments and tools to have a say in the scheduling of working hours, and adapt working hours to their needs (which is a different kind of flexibility!).
These policies should also provide workers with genuine options to combine a full time job with family responsibilities, and thereby avoid that workers involuntarily take recourse to part time work.

These issues, which are the logical counterpart of current proposals to introduce more flexibility for employers, will have to be addressed primarily in the revision of the Working Time Directive (WTD).{[[The European Parliament in its first reading on the revision of the WTD came up with the proposal to introduce an obligation for employers to inform workers well in advance of any changes in their working time pattern, and a right for workers to request changes to their working hours and patterns.
At the same time, policies on part time work should be reviewed, to promote both women and men being able to voluntarily take up part time work, and making such choices reversible. In several countries, a legal right to request part time work exists, which obliges employers to various degrees, to take these requests seriously and motivate a refusal (UK, Netherlands, and Germany). In the UK, this right is limited to parents of young children. In the Netherlands this right is available to everyone without limitation, and any adaptation is possible, from full time to part time and vice versa, including the right to extend hours from short part time to longer part time arrangements.

This issue has already been addressed in terms of a recommendation in the Part Time Agreement between Social Partners at EU level, which was the basis of the Part time Directive. Social Partners at EU level should be asked to further elaborate this approach.

Whereas in the ETUC's view, maximum working hours and minimum protection should be regulated by EU legislation, there is enormous scope for the provision of flexible working patterns at sectoral or company level. In their Framework of Actions on Gender Equality, the Social Partners have taken up recommendations in this regard. In the ETUC's view, these flexible working patterns should be promoted primarily on the basis of negotiated agreements between social partners at various levels, providing for a supportive and protective framework that allows workers to adapt their working hours and working time patterns without losing employment and social security protection. It is of major importance that such flexible working patterns be open to men and women alike, not only focussing on mothers or parents with small children, and be reversible.
The ETUC wants to stress that ‘flexible working arrangements' must be clearly understood as working arrangements that provide workers (men and women) with flexibility in the context of mainstream employment relationships. All too often, women are paying a high price for their need to adapt work to reconciliation needs by accepting precarious employment conditions (such as on call or zero hours contracts, small part time contracts with irregular hours and the obligation to work overtime without extra payment, etc.), that are often confusingly called ‘flexible contracts'.

As a final remark, the ETUC warns against promoting part time work as a panacea for work-life balance needs. Part time work may constitute both an opportunity and a threat to women's security, depending on how it is organised and embedded in wider social and employment policies. It is an opportunity when it allows flexibility for balancing work and family responsibilities or other private needs on the request of the worker, is well protected in employment regulation and social security, and is reversible. It is, however, menacing to women's current - and future - well being when it becomes a feminised ghetto, with low wages, without opportunities for career advancement, and with no chance of moving to a full time job (in some highly feminised sectors nowadays there are almost no full time jobs on offer....). Nor is it a proper solution for families with only one wage earner available (increasingly, women working part time are the new working poor....).[[See Jane Jenson “The European Social Model: Gender and Generational Equality”, in ‘Global Europe, social Europe', edited by Giddens, Diamond and Liddle, 2006 ]] In addition, it may often lead to women being under-employed (both in terms of the number of hours worked, as in terms of the skills level of their job) and may constitute an underutilisation of female human capital.
Current policies with regard to part time work should therefore be reviewed also in terms of their effect on gender segregation in the labour market, and measures should be taken to counter these effects. Lessons can be learnt from the great variety of good and bad practice experiences in countries with a high incidence of part time work (such as the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, UK). The Commission could promote comparative research in this regard, and invite Member States and Social Partners at all relevant levels to make part time work a genuine quality option for men and women.

2) new possibilities offered by information technologies

Information technologies can play an important role in providing training, for instance for workers during their maternity or parental leave, to stay up to date or to use their time for acquiring additional skills. These possibilities should be further explored and developed, taking into account that they should be encouraged as voluntary options.

Information technologies can also provide tools to workplaces in which workers are allowed more say in the scheduling of their working hours, providing management and workers with the possibility to exchange information, and react quickly to a sudden change in availability (for instance when a child is sick etc.).

ICT can offer new opportunities for improving work-life balance, as well as reducing the impact of travel to work on the environment, through smarter working practices. [[For instance one of the largest UK employers (British Telecom) has pioneered remote and flexible working for all staff, which among other things has resulted in a remarkable rate of return to work of women on maternity leave that has risen to 98 %, attributed to the varied range of flexible working policies in combination with remote working available to new mothers.]]

However, in the ETUC's view, the option of telework is in itself not a solution for work-life balance needs, and may entail risks in terms of social protection and career perspectives. EU Social Partners reached an Agreement in 2002 to improve the quality of telework, to provide teleworkers with the necessary protection, and to promote voluntary telework. In the same way as with working time patterns and part time work, the workers' capacity to exert genuine influence on the organisation of their work is key.

3) availability and quality of childcare and care services for the elderly and other dependants{
Clearly, more is needed in terms of the availability and quality of the care services provided across the EU, not only in terms of child care, but also elder and dependant care. The Barcelona targets on childcare which were introduced in 2002 have not yet been realised and the Commission needs to put Member States back on track, by taking more explicit and proactive action against Member States that are clearly not taking sufficient and appropriate action.
In many Member States, publicly funded care services are lacking and even non-existent, which results in private provision, often at unaffordable prices, and often with demand outstripping supply.
Very few, if any, countries offer childcare as a right to parents and children, in the way that education is a right, and this means that parents are often faced with dilemmas over the availability, quality and affordability of childcare, and that its costs are often seen as a burden on the women's potential wage (which, when costs are high, may lead to the decision that women cannot afford to take up paid employment!).

In several Member States, seemingly generous long maternity or parental leave periods (although often with low or no pay) camouflage the absence of childcare facilities, and maintain a vicious circle in which women have little choice other than to leave the labour market for long periods when they have children, and have great difficulty re-entering after several years of absence.

The ETUC is of the opinion that it is high time to address the provision of childcare as a general interest as much as primary school education, and to demand from Member States to develop it as a generally available public service.
At the same time, as the issue of childcare is clearly perceived throughout Europe as being one of the highest priorities, one could consider asking the European Social Partners to develop recommendations on how to increase the availability, accessibility and quality of childcare, taking into account the positive role social partners are already playing at national and sectoral level (for instance on the basis of an exchange of good practices), often in cooperation with public authorities.

Introducing legal and other measures to promote the provision of elder care and care for dependants would also be a welcome departure as the provision for this across the EU is very varied, ranging from non existent, to marginal. To start with, a new target could be added to the Lisbon goals.
In October 2005, the ETUC Executive Committee adopted an appeal to the European Institutions and Member States “For sustainable and supportive dependent care under the Open Method of Coordination: for the definition of ambitious Europe-wide objectives”, among other things demanding to recognize the right to quality effective care, to develop substantial services and to provide sufficient numbers of qualified personnel, and last but not least to guarantee appropriate and sustainable solidarity finance. [[ETUC website: ]]

4) leave, including paternity leave and leave to care for an elderly parent or a child or other family member with a disability?

As a preliminary comment, the ETUC wants to stress the importance of combining proper leave facilities (not too short, but also not too long) with childcare and flexible working time arrangements geared to the needs of workers, so as to offer a genuine perspective of combining work, family and/or private life, allowing women and men to pursue a fully fledged working life and career as well as a satisfactory private life.

a. Parental leave
In terms of leave arrangements, vast differences exist across the MS, both in terms of length of parental leave arrangements and payment. Efforts must be made to standardise these and to find ways to encourage men to avail of the arrangements, for instance by making part of the leave non transferable[[In Iceland, recent experiences with non-transferable parental leave have shown positive results in terms of the take up by men. In the Netherlands, the Minister of Employment and Social Affairs has recently proposed to double the current right to parental leave (from 26 weeks part time to 52 weeks part time), and make this additional right non-transferable, in order to promote that father and mother each take 26 weeks. ]]. Tackling the gender pay gap is an important aspect to be considered in this debate if we want to weaken the argument that men cannot afford to avail of parental leave because their income is higher than their partner/spouse. An additional point to address in this regard is the need to take periods of leave into account for pension rights.
Social Partners at EU level should evaluate the Parental Leave Agreement, which was the basis for the Parental Leave Directive, and improve its provisions especially with regard to the right to paid parental leave.

Another issue that is insufficiently addressed in the current Parental Leave Directive is the provision of leave facilities for urgent care of sick children or other relatives, while also the question of longer (potentially part time) leave facilities for the care of disabled or relatives with long term illnesses should be put on the agenda.

b. Maternity protection
There are strong arguments for a revision/improvement of the maternity directive. First of all, the Directive is not entirely consistent with the objective of making work compatible with pregnancy. It is ambiguous about the need to invest in prevention (for instance to take away exposure to dangerous substances from the workplace instead of taking away the pregnant women from dangerous exposure) and about risk assessment. The result is that in most of the EU countries dangerous situations for pregnant workers are not systematically eliminated. For that reason, the ETUC also fully supports the inclusion of reprotoxics in the present Carcinogens Directive.

Secondly, the lack of strong guarantees about payments during maternity leave can have the negative consequence that women with the lowest incomes voluntarily "renounce" taking the leave to maintain their salaries. Pregnancy and giving birth should not justify a loss in salaries. Social security schemes should be used for this objective, and stronger safeguards built into the Maternity Directive.

Thirdly, the protection against dismissal is not strong enough in the directive. Fourthly, the Directive should include a provision on breastfeeding facilities, such as those that figure in ILO Convention 103 as revised in 2000. And finally, the current exclusion of domestic workers from the Directive should be deleted.

The European Parliament supported by the ETUC has been asking for a revision of the directive to improve its provisions since 2000 [[Report EP 30 May 2000 on the Commission report on the implementation of Council Directive 92/85/EEC, A5-0155/2000]]!

c. Paternity leave and adoption leave
The current leave facilities should be extended with paternity leave, i.e. the possibility for fathers (or partners in same-sex couples) to take some time off around the birth of a child to assist the mother and allow them to establish a relationship with the new born child, for instance two weeks full time, that can be taken up in a flexible way (for instance also in a longer period of part time work).

Also the introduction of leave for adoption purposes and arrangements to facilitate temporary or permanent foster care should be considered, as was already demanded by the EP in its report of 2000 on the evaluation of the Maternity Directive.

d. educational leave/ sabbaticals
For many different reasons (life long learning, promoting a skilled and adaptable workforce, prevention of burn-out, etc.) the introduction of learning facilities and incentives including educational leave or sabbatical periods should be promoted. Such periods of leave would allow workers to invest in their private life and capacities for personal reasons other than family reasons. This is also important to prevent that there is an over-focus on facilities for parents and carers only, at the expense of workers without such obligations.

5. Essential household services and domestic work
Increasingly in many countries families, the sick and the elderly rely on essential household services provided by workers, mostly women and often from a migrant or ethnic minority background, who often work under very informal and unprotected arrangements. It can no longer be denied that these services in many cases have become indispensable, and represent a formidable amount of invisible women's employment, including employment situations of a very dependent and sometimes exploitative nature.

In the ETUC's view, this issue will have to be addressed, both from the perspective of providing these workers with basic protection and equal opportunities, as from the perspective of how to organise household services in a more sustainable way. This issue is closely linked to the Commission's efforts to transform undeclared work into regular employment, and with the recent consultation on the modernisation of labour law.

In November 2000, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on ‘regulating domestic help in the informal sector', calling on the EU and Member States to take a whole range of measures, including the recognition of this kind of work as an occupation, the setting of minimum standards of protection, etc. [[EP 30 November 2000, EP A5-0301/2000]] It is high time to give proper follow up at EU level to the resolution of the EP.

In April 2005, the ETUC organised a conference to investigate and discuss good practice experiences with organising and protecting domestic workers in Europe, which showed that in several Member States good practice has been developed which can be built upon.[[Out of the Shadows; organising and protecting domestic workers in Europe, the role of trade unions, conference report ETUC (see ETUC website )]]

An important aspect to explore is how fiscal incentives or measures can be used to promote both the transformation from undeclared into regular employment and the development of a sector for individual/personal services. Experiments with services-vouchers in some countries have proven to be positive. It would also be interesting to consider exemptions of VAT on such services (but then of course these exemptions should not be considered by the EU as ‘state-aid'!). {{
6) Modernising social protection
Social security and social protection schemes play an important role in providing securities and safety nets to workers and families. However, their design can have a significant influence on people's lives. They can either reinforce a traditional pattern and division of labour between men and women, or promote a greater variety of choices and opportunities. This is not the place to go into detail on this important but very complex matter. However, the ETUC wants to draw attention to the need to accompany all the above mentioned matters with a modern framework for social protection, which recognizes that the assumption of a household breadwinner with a lifetime pattern of full time continuous employment is increasingly rare. Instead, social protection systems should be designed to acknowledge and support working time adjustments and temporary exits over the life course, in the broader context of helping workers adapt to various transitions in their working life.

(iii) By which means do you consider that better reconciliation between professional life and private and family life could be achieved?

There are a number of areas where the ETUC believes action at EU level by EU institutions and/or Social Partners would be beneficial and these include the following:

Revision of the EU Maternity Directive (92/85/EC) in order to bring it into line with the ILO Convention 183 (2000), taking into account the demands made by the ETUC and the EP since 2000;
Introduction of an EU Directive on Paternity Leave (or reviewing and extending the current Parental Leave Directive in this regard) granting paid leave to fathers (and partners of same-sex couples) for a fixed period of time (eg 2 weeks full time or 1 month part time);
Increase the length of non transferable parental leave from 3 to 6 months and ensure payment through social security / tax arrangements; strengthen the right to leave for urgent care needs (for sick children or other dependents);
Initiate and support campaigns and policies to encourage men to avail of their parental and paternity leave; provide for incentives such as reserving a part of parental leave for the father;
Ensure a maximum limit to working time for all, and provide workers with tools and instruments to influence the scheduling of their working hours (in the Working Time Directive)
Ensure the right to flexible working patterns and the right to reduce or increase ones working hours (building on clause 5 of the cross sectoral agreement on part-time work);
Promote quality and reversibility of part time work over the life course;
Promote a renewed commitment by the MS to achieve the Barcelona targets on childcare;
Develop a new Lisbon target on elder care/ care for dependents and support EU initiatives in this field with financial resources available
Follow up on EP recommendations with regard to domestic work and explore fiscal incentives to transform informal/undeclared work in household and personal services into regular employment.

(iv) Do you consider the existing Community legislation (notably on parental leave and protection of maternity) is adequate to help meet the needs for reconciliation between professional and private and family obligations and to create the conditions for more equal sharing of professional, private and family responsibilities between women and men?

The existing Community legislation (notably on parental leave and protection of maternity) is a step in the right direction, but the ETUC believes that it could and should be strengthened. As already mentioned, there are a number of specific aspects where we feel more could be done -e.g. revision of the maternity directive, payment during parental leave, introduction of a new directive on paternity leave.

Central to any upgrading exercise must be how to improve the take up by men of such rights.
A more equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men also needs a major cultural shift and change in mentality, not only of women and men themselves, but also in workplaces and at the level of management, so that the fact that workers show a broader interest than just in their job is seen as a strength rather than a weakness. Also in this regard the long hours culture in certain countries, but also in certain professions (higher and managerial staff), should be addressed as outdated and counter productive.

{{ {(v) How can the best balance be struck between the costs and benefits - for both individuals and companies - of measures permitting reconciliation of professional, private and family life?
} }}{
}The key question is how costs and benefits are defined. Rubery, Humphries et al. (2003) conceptualised gender equality as a productive factor. Basically the answer to this question will depend whether one takes the very narrow approach of only looking at the costs or whether one includes the feedback effects and expands the approach to include quality of life.[[Jill Rubery, J Humphries, C Fagan, Damian P Grimshaw and Mark J Smith "Equal Opportunities as a Productive Factor", in Systems of Production: markets, organisations and performance (eds. B Burchell, S Deakin, J Michie & J Rubery),Routledge: London, 2003

Today the direct costs of doing nothing are quite clear to all policy makers in Europe: we get a sub-optimal use of human capital and female labour supply and not enough children to replace the workers that are going to leave. However the question remains what should be done and who should do it. The answer depends on what approach is taken : reconciliation as an investment or reconciliation as consumption.

Today, there are several high profile proponents (e.g. Prof. Esping Andersen, Prof. Van Praag) of publicly provided or monitored, quality child-care at a reasonable price, that indicate that not only is child-care the main issue to resolve, but that simple computations also show that the costs are very low if not negative. The main reason for this being that child-care will enable women to be on the labour market and reduce the need for long term leave schemes. Hence, the state will get taxes in the earnings of the women and will avoid directly or indirectly paying for the leave schemes. Furthermore, due to the fact that women are less hampered in their professional life and that this should have an effect on their overall labour market situation, they will earn far more over a life time, hence there is a double effect on tax revenue. Taken together the decrease in benefits paid out for care leave and the income generated by more tax revenue, this amount will be larger than the cost for child-care. Hence there is already on a purely narrow economic reasoning enough arguments for quality, fairly priced or even free child-care.

In addition, creating child care and other care infrastructures in the formal sector will generate employment, which generates additional income and tax revenue and consumption, thereby contributing to the expansion of the economy (an effect that can clearly be seen when looking at the historical development of the Swedish and other Scandinavian welfare systems).

It also depends within which time-horizon one reasons, a short-term or long-term perspective. In the short-term there may be some costs associated with investing in reconciliation, but in the long term the results will probably be positive by a better allocation of resources and feed-back effects. Apart from this, happy workers are productive workers.

One important element is that the short-term costs should not be linked directly to female employment as this will hamper their labour market participation. The question of reconciliation is not a “female question” but a “societal question”, hence whatever costs that will arise from increasing care and other services need to be pooled and shared by the society at large.

However, this question is basically one of the prevalent attitude towards going beyond the current norm, which in many minds is still a full-time job without any interruption (leave). Anything that deviates from this is perceived as generating costs. But it is not sure that it will cost more to have men on leave rather than women, nor is it clear whether it will cost more to rethink the way that working hours are organised. There may be some initial costs associated with rethinking the ways things are done, but in the medium or long run this should go towards zero.

There is also an issue that arises with regard to the individual, as the gender wage gap implies that working less or taking leave will have a greater impact on the family income if it is done by men. However, by distributing the unpaid work equally between men and women, we should see a narrowing down on the gender wage gap.

But the major question is: consider the costs of doing nothing..........!