The European Union has throughout its history promoted social fairness and worked at achieving an effective social market economy.

Although the economic crisis of the last decade put a strain on the social fabric of society, we have turned a page and put the social dimension where it belongs: at the heart of Europe. Our reforms and policies are now bolstered by renewed economic revival in Europe.

One important response to address the changing world of work and broader socio-economic challenges, is the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The Pillar was proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the first Social Summit held in 20 years in Gothenburg in November 2017. It sets out 20 principles and rights and is designed as a compass for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in the European Union. In fact, one of the first legislative proposals to address these challenges and that derived directly from the Social Pillar was the directive on work-life balance for parents and carers.

We are proud to present a balanced legal act, which gives the right and equal access for both women and men to special leave of absence and flexible working arrangements. The aim is to enable them to fulfil their caring responsibilities and encourage them to use these rights in a gender-balanced way.

In turn, this will help to tackle women’s under-representation in the labour market by facilitating the reconciliation of professional and family responsibilities for both women and men.

Women need to be empowered to further their career, return to work or make use of flexible working arrangements in order to reach their full potential in the workplace. It is well-documented that giving women the pos­si­­bility to have more time for paid employment will promote non-dis­crimi­nation and foster gender equality. Without having real opportunities there can be no effective work-life balance arrange­ments for families.

Both parents are equal in their share of responsibilities

We are convinced that having both parents present in the upbringing of their children and caring for their loved ones will benefit society in the long-term.

It will also help to create an environment whereby children, particularly boys, grow up in an environment where both parents are equal in their share of responsibilities. This will help in bringing about a change in culture and perception of responsibilities when it comes to care.

As women traditionally still take on most of the caring responsibilities in the home, the net result is that paid work is interrupted or reduced. This widens the gender employment gap, the gender pay gap and, eventually, the pension gap.

Reducing the gender employment gap benefits both the economy and business. It will also help in reduce the pension gap and poverty among women in old age.

We see that more fathers wish to be involved in the upbringing of their children and more women are aspiring to reach their full potential. We therefore need to provide the necessary tools to help people reach these aspirations. We have captured this new reality and mirrored with our new legislation on work-life balance.

Our philosophy throughout these negotiations has always been that in­equality between women and men in work opportunities and work-life balance arrangements needs to be eliminated or at least narrowed down through adaptable policies in a way that brings about benefits not only for employees but also to employers.

After the vote that will take place in the European Parliament next month, Member States will have to implement these new European rules.

We are convinced that what was negotiated and agreed is good for social Europe, good for women, good for men, good for families and good for the econo­my. And definitely a good step towards a more social Europe.

David Casa is a Member of the European Parliament and coordinator of the EP’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee.

Marianne Thyssen is the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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