Home News & eventsNews Exploring how the EU supports working parents and carers

Exploring how the EU supports working parents and carers

Published: 20 Jun 2016

Picture of Sarah Jackson

By Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families

We’re committed to creating a world in which everyone can achieve the right balance between paid work and their home life. One of the ways we do this is by providing free legal advice to parents and carers.

We delivered more than 3,200 pieces of advice to 2,800 people that asked for our help in 2015 on issues ranging from key employment rights including maternity and paternity leave and pay, to negotiating a flexible working pattern, and using unpaid leave to deal with family commitments.

With a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU fast approaching, Working Families has explored where the laws that underpin the advice we give working parents and carers through our legal advice service come from.

We discovered that the advice we give is very often based on EU provisions for employment protection and equality in the workplace that has been translated into UK law or led to improvements and extensions of UK law.

On employee rights, for example, the EU’s 1993 working time directive has helped set limits on the average working week, and given employees the right to rest periods and a minimum amount of paid holiday. The EU’s 1997 part-time workers directive means part time employees cannot be treated less favourably than full time employees.

Let’s take pregnancy and maternity rights in particular. We take calls from women experiencing this type of discrimination because they are pregnant or on maternity leave every single day that our advice line is open. The EU’s 1992 pregnant worker’s directive has helped protect women from pregnancy and maternity discrimination, in particular prohibiting a woman’s dismissal while pregnant or on maternity leave.

We also explored what’s coming up at EU level. Currently being considered are proposals to improve work life balance and reduce obstacles to women’s participation in the labour market. Identified options are new rights to fathers’ leave, carers’ leave and stronger maternity protections.  The EU is also considering proposals for the right to a written statement of terms and conditions for all employees (including those on zero-hours contracts), and improved rights for self-employed people and posted workers.

We get lots of calls to our advice line about flexible working. I’m proud that, in this area in particular, the UK has been ahead of the EU.  The UK’s 2002 Employment Act introduced the right to request flexible working for those with parental or caring responsibilities, and in 2014 this right was extended to all employees.  These rights help working parents and carers achieve the right balance between paid work and their life at home.

The UK has gone over and above EU provisions in other areas. The UK’s 2006 work and families act extended maternity leave for up to 52 weeks, exceeding the EU’s 14 weeks. Another example is the UK raising the upper age limit for children for whom working parents have the right to take unpaid leave from work to care for from five to 18.

I’ve found it helpful to explore where the provisions for employment protection and equality in the workplace of benefit to working parents and carers have come from ahead of Thursday. You can find the timeline of rights and where they came from we created here. If you find it useful, please share with it with family and friends.

Whatever Thursday’s result, Working Families’ legal advice line will be available to help parents and carers that need it. Call 0300 012 0312 or email advice@workingfamilies.org.uk

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