Over the past few months, I have been leading an important legislative proposal that will be of great benefit to parents, workers and carers across Europe.

This is an EU Work-Life Balance directive that is aimed at improving the actual day-to-day life of working parents as well as carers, introducing new forms of leave and the right to request flexible working arrangements.

The measures we are proposing, following many discussions with European as well as local stakeholders such as employers’ and employees’ unions, will see the introduction of paid paternity leave and stronger parental leave, encourage the take-up of flexible working arrangements, and above all, introduce a right to carers’ leave for workers taking care of ill or dependant relatives.

In today’s society, we need to acknowledge the importance of carers in every family, especially here in Malta.

There is no doubt that we live in a society that must cater for an ageing population, whether through the use of professional assistance or the dedication of one’s own personal time. More often than not, it is the latter option that is taken up as family members choose to take it upon themselves to tend to their relatives.

However, this is no easy feat. Caring roles can be very demanding, both physically and mentally. I believe that more focus needs to be placed on the carers themselves, who should be offered the necessary support. This is also very important when considering that the role of carers gene­rally falls more on women than men.

More focus needs to be placed on the carers themselves, who should be offered the necessary support

The proposals in this directive aim to address the under-representation of women in the workforce by improving the conditions through which employment and private duties are balanced out in a fair and just manner. I would like to ensure that women do not suffer the financial brunt and face the consequences of a widening gender pay gap, simply because they are dedicated enough to allot their time to caring for loved ones.

Giving people the ability to care for relatives is beneficial, as it promotes positive welfare and a caring society – however, the obstacles are there for all. This is why the Work-Life Balance directive seeks to safeguard a minimum standard of five working days per worker per year, in every Member State.

In Malta the right to carers’ leave would be a completely new right. But it is my view that this should be introduced with some flexibility – allowing for longer periods to be taken when workers really need it. Often a loved one will be sick for a prolonged period of time once or twice in the life of a worker, and perhaps never again. Allowing for leave to accumulate to be used in these circumstances would be preferable.

These proposals are beneficial for everyone in the equation. By giving family members who have taken it upon themselves to care for sick relatives or elderly parents the right to paid leave from their employers, the State also benefits as it reduces the need for State-aid in this regard, which is no low-cost matter for public finances.

Naturally, having family members being cared for by their relatives is a situation that many people see as the better alternative to having their loved ones in retirement homes and residencies.

We can no longer promote a work-life balance without actually putting minimum standards, rights and laws in place to back this up. This directive is aimed at doing just that, and I believe it is a vital, and positive, first step in the right direction.

Negotiations on this directive are ongoing and I am hopeful that an agreement will be found with the European Council in the coming weeks.

David Casa MEP is the EPP Coordinator on Employment and Social Affairs and the European Parliament’s lead rapporteur on the Work-Life Balance directive.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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