On May 15, the EMPL Committee met for a consideration of amendments on Work-life balance for parents and carers. The rapporteur, David Casa (EPP, MT), explained that he received several hundreds of amendments, trying to find a balance between protecting the rights of parents and carers and not placing too much of a burden on SMEs. He also said that mandatory parental leave would not be proportionate. His proposals were seen favourably by most of the MEPs present but calls were also made to remain realistic with the demands given the sceptical position of the Council. Please see below for a summary of the debate.
David Casa (EPP, MT), rapporteur, was pleased by the huge interest in the file. 660 amendments were tabled additional to his own 80 amendments. The vast majority of those 660 amendments have a similar position. He summarised that the following elements were supported by most of the committee's MEPs: 1) encourage MS to provide caring facilities, 2) provisions for persons with disabilities, 3) paternity leave also during an adoption procedure and not only after a birth, 4) that leave should weight/date, 5) more days of parental leave that are non-transferable between father and mother 6) 10 days of maternity leave, 7) 5 days carer leave, 8) increase the max age of a child from 8 to 12y old when parental leave can be applied. There are however points that require further discussion.
On remuneration, proposals vary from full payment to leaving the level up to Member States (MS). There is support in the committee to remove low sick pay level as a minimum of remuneration. He said, his position is to set the gross wage as a minimum, amendments varied from 45% to 100%. He proposed to meet somewhere in the middle. The committee seems to be split between increasing to 12y and remaining at 8y. He suggested that 10y would be a good compromise, considering also the view of the Council on this matter.
On the definition of relative for carer, many amendments aim to expand the definition set by the Commission proposal, he will lead discussions to find a compromise. On making maternity mandatory he is not sure. He agreed to mention that MS should be encouraged to make it mandatory, but imposing it on EU level is not proportionate in his view.
He mentioned that many amendments address the difficulties of single parents. More effort should be made to increase their rights regarding parental leave. But, he reminded, we must strive for the right balance, otherwise it might be negative for the employability of the person.
For SMEs, he supported the elimination of the administrative burden where possible. For this legislation to succeed, he will table amendments to safeguard the interests of SMEs and employees.
The first draft of the opinion is in the making. Substantial progress has been made, which will be shared with the shadow rapporteurs. He warned that the discussions in the Council are moving towards giving MS more power in many regards instead of general EU minimum standards. He called on his fellow MEPs to be reasonable and united in order to create a balanced position. Which can be better defended in the upcoming trilogue negotiations.
Maria Arena (S&D, BE), shadow rapporteur, said that the S&D Group shared many viewpoints with the rapporteur. She said that the Commission proposal is good, but certain changes and adaptions are needed. The S&D Group has three objectives: 1) to have a proper work-life balance, 2) a reasonable pay of remuneration 3) to fight stereotype roles of men and women when taking care in the family. The right to paternity leave should be mandatory because it is often not used by men, it should be an obligation not just a choice. Paternity leave should be also enjoyed when a stillbirth occurred, to give parents time to grieve, she demanded. Paternity leave should be available for all kind of workers including self-employed. She promised an amendment with a non-regression clause, that prevents MS from taking a step back of national achievements.
The Council established a position that remuneration should in line with sick leave pay level, which causes difficulties for the various national coverage regimes. The rapporteur's position is parental leave remuneration at 75% of income, which she supported. Remuneration is very important, she argues, to avoid impoverished families and children. Right to parental leave without proper remuneration can lead to poverty, preventing poorer children to become full members of society. In the trilogue, the EP needs to maintain a strong position on remuneration. She was convinced that most share her view and that all should work towards a consensus. Considering the ESCO Council in June, the EP's work agenda should be aligned with EC and Council in order to finalise this proposal early enough before the end of mandate.
Arne Gericke (ECR, DE), on behalf of Jana Žitňanská (ECR, SK) , shadow rapporteur, recalled the demands of the FEMM draftsperson Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz (EPP, PL), that the EP should remain reasonable in its demands in order to have a good basis for future trilogue negotiations. Main points of the ECR Group are: 1) keep the directive as simple as possible, so MS can implement minimum standards and take care of detailed measures, leave enough room for MS to adopt provisions to their national needs, 2) call for better childcare infrastructure, 3) the directive should not thread SMEs, 4) improve definition and position of carers, but give MS enough space to finetune at national level.
Renate Weber (ALDE, RO), shadow rapporteur, appreciated the work of the rapporteur and supported his call to be realistic in demands towards the Council. Otherwise the EP risks to not finish this file within its mandate and disappointing many voters. The proposal can be a great breakthrough for social rights, she assured. Her amendments aimed to include various types of workers, like domestic, on-demand, self-employed workers. She demanded that single parents should enjoy the same rights. She demanded to include people who do not belong to the family as carers as long as they work on a non-profit base. Her greatest concern was to preserve higher standards in certain MS. Minimum EU standards must be consistent so that workers abroad know what they can expect, she explained.
Tania González Peñas (GUE/NGL, ES), shadow rapporteur, said that now we got the amendments, we can start working on details. The GEU/NGL Group amendments demand: 1) protect and consolidate workers, male and female, rights, 2) guarantee equality between men and women in the labour market, 3) promote co-responsibility for child raising, through leave for men, 4) no first and second division in workers payment, 5) parental leave pay at 100%, pay level is directly linked to participation level of men, 6) mandatory 10 days minimum parental leave for fathers, 7) permission for informal carer in a family environment, with right to ad hoc leave up to 12days a year, 8) flexible rights for workers to include atypical and self-employed, 9) non-transferal months for men, that one can reject once for 3 months. She demanded 100% pay for non-transferal paternity leave to have the right incentive for men. This proposal should be one package for all forms of parental leave and carers work. A non-regression clause for MS with higher standards would send a strong message to the Council.
Miroslavs Mitrofanovs (Greens/EFA, LV), shadow rapporteur, to improve MS standards we must propose new standards in the EP, he said. The EP is one of the few instruments to improve social politics for all Europeans. The EP must put higher standards to achieve some goals that might be rejected by the Council now, but could become reality in the near future, he envisaged. MS need to inform parents and carers about how to improve their work-life balance. Many young ambitious people are not aware of the financial aid and existing support. This is in the best interest of the government that faces an aging and shrinking population.
Laura Agea (EFDD, IT), shadow rapporteur, advised the committee to maintain a balanced position for trilogue negotiations. The EFDD Group demanded: 1) user specific instruments, that provide incentives to close the gender pay gap, 2) single female workers need special attention when giving birth, 3) a clause for self-employed workers, 4) entrepreneurs should guarantee parental leave but with exceptions for atypical contract workers, 5) benefits during an adoption process, 6) simplification of the administration, 7) MS should provide more childcare in a fast-changing society, 8) prevention of abuse. Appropriate high-quality care for children, to be used by everybody no matter their income. She asked Mr Casa to include self-employed workers and high-level guarantees from the MS.
Joëlle Mélin (ENF, FR), shadow rapporteur, made it clear that she had a different position than the other MEPs. Higher remuneration for young parents requires enormous amounts of funding, she warned, and should not be imposed on MS. The social pillar under national sovereignty guarantees already social protection, contributing role of employers, equality of men and women, ensures employees good pay, balance of private and work life, etc. appropriate to their national standard. The EP instead tries to create an imbalance that some MS will not be able to pay for. She warned, we cannot afford a higher level of social security for all. Yes, she conceded, there are also interesting amendments by the various groups, but this needs to be discussed among shadows.
Verónica Lope Fontagné (EPP, ES), was convinced that we can manage to finish this file before the end of the term. She demanded: 1) a fairer share of family responsibilities, 2) the financial burden has to be taken by MS, 3) a flexible and high level of financial compensation, rather than a percentage of sick leave.
Elisabeth Morin-Chartier (EPP, FR), thanked the rapporteur. She thought that the role of the EU is to provide a balance between the professional and family life. She demanded an end to transferability of parental leave between men and women, because this slows down women's careers. Non-transferability is crucial to narrow the pay gap. She said that already 61% of graduates are women, but at retirement women earn on average 39% less than men, which is unacceptable and a degradation of all women. Main reasons for this development are births and maternity leave. A good state remuneration might appear expensive in the beginning but pays off over a whole life, she was convinced.
Agnes Jongerius (S&D, NL) agreed with Maria Arena and Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, that it is important to finalise this file within this mandate. The negotiations with the Council will not be easy, but she trusts the rapporteur and his shadows to find a balanced and firm position.
Arne Gericke (ECR, DE), demanded a real salary for carers and parents to live, according to the work they provide. Carers and parents should not have to beg for their money because of their important service for society. He pointed out that of course remuneration varies in Romania and Sweden because the salaries are different. Some women are forced to remain at work because of low remuneration during parental leave, here the state should step in and provide better remuneration. Simply providing child care is not enough. Parents pay taxes for their children through VAT and have a right to stay at home to take care of their new-borns and receive appropriate remuneration.
Because of our aging population, he said, the government is more interested in the voices of families and carers. He is convinced that we will finally reach a status of real balance, not just pocket money but a real income for parents and carers. A contract between three generations is needed, he said. Equality for women means that especially single mothers need to be protected from poverty at old age, he concluded.
David Casa (EPP, MT), rapporteur, was convinced that we can find a good compromise. He asked to try to find a middle way, something that is practical. He assured that we can start working together with the Council and we will be able to find a solution.