Reconciling family life and work is explicitly included in the four core areas on which the national social partners are to take action by 2010 agreed in the Framework of Actions on Gender Equality (http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/news/2005/mar/gender_equality_en.pdf).
Reconciling family and working life is a key tool in achieving workplace equality both between
women and men and also between women with children and women without.
The social partners have a key role to play as they are able to draw on the requisite structures in the individual Member States. Through their commitment to helping reconcile family life and work they can have a critical impact on workers' everyday lives.
The Committee stresses that the goal must be a fundamental revamp of the way in which unpaid, nonjob-related work such as bringing up children, caring for relatives and organising domestic chores is shared between men and women. Men must be encouraged to share such tasks in a genuine spirit of partnership. This requires a radical change in thinking and structure.
The views of the social partners have a pivotal influence on social attitudes. Experience in the
Scandinavian countries and in Germany has shown that it may be useful to introduce a provision whereby families receive certain financial allowances (a proportion of child benefit, for instance) – or receive them at a higher rate – only on condition that the father also takes a certain amount of time out to look after his child. Given the changed roles of women and men, it is particularly important that the social partners make perfectly clear that a child's development does not suffer because its mother works or its father looks after the family.
The social partners can help to resolve the issue of how parents can actually live out their chosen life plan. The Committee notes that the provisions in place to protect pregnant women and fathers and mothers on parental leave must be stringently complied with and must not be circumvented through indirect discrimination.
Companies that offer their employees help with childminding deserve backing. Where support to parents is lacking, companies inflict damage on themselves as such practices adversely affect the working environment and staff motivation.
The Committee points out that when introducing flexible working time models, consideration should also be given to the flexicurity approach. Flexibility negotiated between the social partners must aim to secure a win-win situation for companies and employees alike.
The Committee considers that business competitions, backed by the social partners, are a good way of raising the public profile of family- and women-friendly practices and of putting such practices forward as examples for others to follow. Such competitions bring innovative tools to the attention of the broader public.
The Committee would encourage the social partners to launch regional-level and local-level
initiatives, bringing together committed players (businesses, works councils, parents' groups, faithbased communities, sports clubs, local representatives etc.) in towns and local communities to coordinate local parameters in such as way as to secure the most effective possible reconciliation of working, family and private life.
The Committee urges that each Member State should lay down a specific care target for children under three. To make it possible to reconcile work and family life, a place at a nursery or with a qualified childminder should be available for at least 33% of all children under three by 2010. The Committee considers it vital that greater importance be attached than in the past to expanding childcare provision in the EU Member States, and that appropriate political measures be put in place to further accelerate and support this process.
Greater emphasis should also be placed on expanding care services to help to relieve the burden on family carers for older relatives.
The task of the social partners on this issue can be to provide information on tools that have proved effective in practice. These might, for instance, include working time arrangements that can be changed at short notice; workplaces adapted to carers' needs; and the provision of documentation on organisational, financial and legal aspects of care.
Finally, the Committee asks the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission to take account of and support the proposals set out in this exploratory opinion in their future work in order to further improve moves to reconcile working, family and private life in Europe.