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  • Parenting in Serbia: What will happen when we become a part of the EU

    About the Directive

    Following the European Commission’s 2017 Proposal for a Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers[1], the new EU Work-life Balance Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1158)[2] was passed by the European Parliament in April 2019 and entered into force later that year, in August. The aim of this Directive is to “improve families’” access to family leave and flexible work arrangements’, and ultimately “contribute to an increase in women’s employment and families’ economic stability.”[3] Moreover, it introduces a set of legislative and non-legislative measures, i.e. policy measures, designed to modernise the existing EU frameworks in the work-life balance area.[4]

    Legal measures under the Directive include the introduction of paternity leave, whereby fathers must be able to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of their child, compensated at least at the level of sick pay. Secondly, this Directive ensures that two out of the four months of parental leave are non-transferable between parents and compensated at a level that is determined by the Member State. Third legal measure is the introduction of carers’ leave, meaning that workers who provide personal care or support to a relative will be entitled to five days of leave per year. And lastly, the extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements to carers and working parents of children up to eight years old.[5]

    On the other hand, policy measures aimed at supporting Member States in achieving common goals are: encouraging the use of European funds to improve the provision of formal care services; ensuring protection for parents and carers against discrimination or dismissal; and removing economic disincentives for second earners within families.[6]

    How will this affect Serbia?

    However, it is important to note that the Directive (EU) 2019/1158 lays down minimum requirements when it comes to legal measures, meaning that Member States have the right to set higher standards than those set in the Directive.[7] This is significant for Serbia, since it prescribes a very generous paid maternity leave of 12 months for the first and second child, and 24 months for the third and fourth child. Also, the Employment Act of the Republic of Serbia already recognises the possibility of paternity leave, both for the needs of care and for the exceptional circumstances prescribed by law. Therefore, harmonisation with EU legislation, whether it happens at the pre-accession stage or after becoming a member, will not reduce the benefits aimed at supporting childbirth, but will primarily refer to compulsory paternity leave, carers, as well as part-time work.

    Background

    As previously mentioned, prior to 2019, a set of instruments and legislative measures tackling the matters of work-life balance was already in place.[8] In the 1990s, the EU adopted two directives in the area of family related leave, including the Pregnant Workers Directive[9] and the Parental Leave Directive,[10] as well as the Part-time Work Directive.[11] The Parental Leave Directive was repealed and replaced in 2010, when a mechanism for encouraging men to take parental leave was introduced.[12] However, in 2017, with the launch of the Social Pillar which sets out rights that are meant to ensure fairer working conditions and better social protection and inclusion, NGOs and trade unions demanded an improved and modernised work-life balance framework in the EU.[13], [14] In response, the Commission launched a proposal and two years later, the Work-life Balance Directive was adopted and enforced.[15]

    As is often the case, the Commission’s proposal was trimmed down during the inter-state bargaining in the Council, and the actual Directive did not include some of the most ambitious provisions. Namely, the Directive puts forward a provision for carers’ leave (at least five days of leave per year), but unlike the original Proposal, it does not require the carers’ leave to be remunerated. When it comes to parental leave, the new Directive extends the minimum period of parental leave that cannot be transferred from one parent to another from one to two months while the Proposal called for four months. Finally, although the Work-life Balance Directive extends the right to request flexible working arrangements to all working parents with children up to the age of eight, as well as caregivers, it is not an enforceable legal entitlement. A parent or a caregiver has the right to request such an arrangement, but the employers are not obliged to take these requests into account.[16]

    Therefore, although this Directive represents a positive development within the EU legal framework, as it aims to improve the working Europeans’ work-life balance and contributes towards achieving a wider goal of gender equality, it only lays down the minimum standards and leaves Member States with significant room for manoeuvring. However, given the generosity of the existing legislation, in the case of Serbia, the adoption of this Directive and other EU rules within this area will likely produce positive effects only.

    Authors: Nebojsa Lazarevic, member of the Negotiating Team for Accession Negotiations of Serbia to the EU and co-founder of the European Policy Centre (CEP), and Marija Ćirić, Project Assistant at CEP.

    [1] European Commission, Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU (COM/2017/0253 final – 2017/085 (COD)).

    [2] Directive (EU) 2019/1158 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU (Work-life Balance Directive or Directive 2019/1158).

    [3] European Commission (2019). Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion: EU Work-life Balance Directive enters into force. [online] Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=89&furtherNews=yes&langId=en&newsId=9438 [Accessed 9 September 2020].

    [4] European Commission (2019). Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion: Work-life balance. [online] Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1311&langId=en [Accessed 9 September 2020].

    [5] European Commission (2019). Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion: EU Work-life Balance Directive enters into force. [online] Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=89&furtherNews=yes&langId=en&newsId=9438 [Accessed 9 September 2020].

    [6] Ibid.

    [7] EUR-Lex (2018). European Union directives. Summary of Article 288 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) – directives. Available from: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=LEGISSUM:l14527&from=EN [Accessed 10 September 2020].

    [8] Chieregato, E. (2020). A Work-Life Balance For All? Assessing the Inclusiveness of EU Directive 2019/1158. International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations 36(1). Pp: 59-80.

    [9] Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding (Pregnant Workers Directive or Directive 92/85/EEC).

    [10] Council Directive 96/34/EC of 3 June 1996 on the framework agreement on parental leave concluded by UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC (Parental Leave Directive or Directive 96/34/EC).

    [11] Council Directive 97/81/EC of 15 December 1997 concerning the Framework Agreement on part-time work concluded by UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC.

    [12] Council Directive 2010/18/EU of March 2010 implementing the revised Framework Agreement on parental leave concluded by BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC and repealing Directive 96/34/EC.

    [13] European Commission (2017). European Pillar of Social Rights: Building a more inclusive and fairer European Union. [online] Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/economy-works-people/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/european-pillar-social-rights_en

    [14] Euractiv (2018). MEPs and NGOs urge ministers to reach deal on Work-Life Balance directive. [online] Available from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/news/meps-and-ngos-urge-ministers-to-reach-deal-on-work-life-balance-directive/ [Accessed 10 September 2020].

    [15] Chieregato, E. (2020). A Work-Life Balance For All? Assessing the Inclusiveness of EU Directive 2019/1158. International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations 36(1). Pp: 59-80.

    [16] Ibid.

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