Imbalance in taking parental leave affects economies, children and gender equality on the labour market. But a new work-balance directive might not do much difference here and now.
When Javier Modrego Casado became a father 18 months ago, it didn’t take long before he went back to his every-day life working in the sports industry in Spain.
“When my child was born I took between three and four weeks of paternity leave. My wife took four months
leave,” says the 30-year-old.
He is an example of a persistent culture, where new fathers only take short leave before returning to work, while the mothers stay at home with the new-born for several months, and sometimes longer. But a new EU-directive on work-life balance aims to reduce the future gender imbalance in taking parental leave
with four months non-transferable parental leave for both parents. But a general approach in the Council is
likely to cut the non-transferable period in half.
“Men often don’t take the leave for economic reasons. That can change, but two and a half week or two
months at home in contrast to six years, because some have several children, will only do little. Of course, it
will not close the gender pay gap and change female poverty rates – of course not – but you have to start
somewhere,” says Nora Milotay, a European Parliament policy analyst.
The Commission presented its proposal including legislative and non-legislative initiatives as part of the
European Pillar of Social Rights. One of the initiatives on the table is that one and a half months of the non-
transferable parental leave should be compensated. But the financial aspect is complicating things:
“The question is really about the very contradicting ideas in terms of the payment. Nuanced wording can
change things completely. The parliament has even set the percentage at 78 % of the gross wage during the
period, but the council said that the level should be decided by the member states. So, the discussion will be
about money and for how long the payment should last,” says Milotay.
Not Too Much
The general aim of the new directive is not to nurse the interests of fathers like Javier Modrego Casado, but
rather women and children. Today the gender pay gap still stands at an average of 16.4 percent across the
EU, and increased equality in parental leave could lead to more equality on the labour market.
But even though Casado would have wanted to stay home longer when his child was born, he doesn’t wish for total equality in parental leave.
“Biologically the mother is the one that needs to be with the baby, especially during the breastfeeding period.
Therefore, I don’t like this policy if is implies a shorter leave for the mother. I don’t like the idea of a shared
leave either,” he says.
There is still a chance that the directive will be blocked during the final negotiations. But Nora Milotay
doesn’t see that happening. She believes that it will go through and have an effect even though not at this
instant: “If you look of the development of the social dimension of the EU since the Treaty of Rome, then you can
see that if you persist, things will change slowly. Things that are not binding at first might become binding or
at least standard practice eventually.” Even in a policy area, where the EU has very limited competence.
Milotay explains that “In the social field and partly the employment field, the institutional set-up and the legislative framework give very limited space for the EU to act.”