The proposed Work-Life Balance Directive, for which I am responsible in the European Parliament, will drastically increase the rights of workers and parents in the EU, particularly in Malta.

The proposal seeks to introduce paternity leave, a 10-day paid leave for fathers available upon the birth or adoption of a child. It also envisages four months non-transferable parental leave for each parent to be taken until the child reaches 10 years of age, five days of annual carer’s leave and the right for parents to request adaptable working arrangements.

I believe that these measures are both timely and necessary in order to improve access to work-life balance arrangements and to better reflect not only the changing working patterns in our society, but also the changing role of fathers and their increasing participation in private life.

The legislative proposal also aims to address the under-representation of women in the labour market by enabling them to better reconcile work and private duties. In addition, it seeks to address their unequal treatment and increasing opportunities for them in the labour market.

Furthermore, it encourages the strengthening of men’s roles as carers in the family. This is crucial as the current Union legal framework provides limited incentives for men to assume an equal share of caring responsibilities.  

Children will also benefit from this directive through having both parents participating in their upbringing to a greater extent.

Through my meetings with stakeholders, I have understood that although there is an increasing appetite for these measures, certain industries are evidently better placed than others to implement and comply with them. Being aware of this fact, I worked to introduce a number of safeguards to protect micro enterprises as well as SMEs that are likely to experience greater difficulty resulting from the introduction of these new rights. Smaller companies are the backbone of our economy and must not be stifled. Here, it is essential to find the right balance and I believe we will do so.

Children will also benefit from this directive through having both parents participating in their upbringing to a greater extent

In my proposal, I tried to adopt a more holistic approach that represents the current socio-economic reality and sought to introduce amendments that also focus on the particular situation of single parents and the introduction of paternity leave in adoption as well as stillbirth cases.

I am also in the process of negotiating an adequate standard remuneration level that will be implemented across the EU, for parents that avail themselves of these new rights. The current benchmark varies across some Member States, and does not exist in others. In many cases, this factor discourages parents from taking up parental leave, as the financial impact on their family will be significant.

This is why I believe that setting a standard minimum level of payment at EU level is necessary. It will not only address the anomalies between the different rates at which workers are paid across Member States but will also help to increase the uptake of leave among fathers, for whom the lack of economic return is a strong disincentive to taking parental leave.

The workplace is fast changing. I believe that inequality between women and men must be eliminated through adaptable policies, which will bring benefits not only for employees, but also to employers.

I believe that if well planned and with relevant safeguards in place to protect the most vulnerable businesses, these new initiatives will also be of great bene­fit to employers. A good work-life balance can enable employees to feel more in control of their working life and lead to increased productivity, lower absenteeism, an improvement in employee health and well-being, greater employee loyalty, commitment and motivation as well as a reduction in staff turnover and recruitment costs.

Most of my work on this proposal has centred on reducing the burdens created by this legislation that are unnecessary or disproportionate. I also sought to ensure that the impact created by this legislation on micro enterprises and SMEs will not overly adversely affect their competitiveness.

It is crucial to strike the right balance between the increase in parents’ rights and the justified concerns of employers. I am hopeful that together we will be able to create legislation that will have a signifi­cant positive impact on the daily lives of parents and carers.

My report will be voted on next week in the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and negotiations with the Council of Ministers should start in September.