The European Commission’s social package, presented on 26 April, seeks to re-inject a social dimension in the European project, thereby aligning Europe’s citizens with the EU. In addition to reflection papers of a political nature (Social Rights Pillar, future for the Social Europe), it presented concrete measures such as draft directive on parental leave and two consultations with the social partners, the first being over the directive on employment contract information and the second over access to social protection. Both consultation issues have formed part of the discussion over new forms of employment and over minimum protection levels for workers on the fringes of salaried employment.
Proposed directive on parental leave. The draft directive on parental leave extends parental leave time from the current minimum of four months until the child reaches age 8 to the new age of 12. In a landmark move, it lays out the principle that this leave time should be paid at the level of sick pay minimum (the current directive doesn’t adresse the question of remuneration). Each parent is each guaranteed a minimum of four months leave so that at least four months leave cannot be transferred between parents in a bid to encourage fathers to take leave and all the more so since it is paid time which would otherwise be lost. Currently it is possible to transfer three of the four-month allocation. Parental leave arrangement will be made more flexible (part-time, piecemeal, etc). Parents of children aged 12 and over can request to work remotely in addition to currently being able to request different working time and working hour’s arrangements. Carers with dependent relatives will also be able to benefit from the working hours and place of work changes.
10-day paternity leave paid at the same level as sick pay minimum will be introduced.
Five days of leave per year for carers of dependent or ill parents will be introduced and paid at the level of sick pay minimum. Both of these are completely new elements in terms of EU rights.
Finally the draft directive intends that for all these new situations, regular principles of the right to take up ones work as before, or the equivalent thereof will apply, as will the right to not be subjected to discrimination not to any reprisal action resulting from having exercised one’s rights.
Two European Social Partner consultations. The social partners are consulted on the revision of the 91/533 directive ‘written declaration’ which ensures that every worker receives in writing the essential information pertaining to the job including the job description, length of paid leave time, and working hours. In the consultation document, the Commission is asking the social partners on the potential for defining the notion of ‘worker’ in terms of the directive and bring into the directive’s scope the ‘most vulnerable’, according to Employment Commissioner Thyssen, such as workers doing home-office and trainees, zero-hour contract or on-call workers, those working for voucher payments etc., and more broadly to “cover all forms of
employment and employment relationships” where currently the definition is left up to the separate EU Member States to decide, which as a result can exclude certain categories. The Commissioner is also putting forward the idea that this directive could no longer merely serve as an information source pertaining to the significant elements in an employment relationship but that it would also support the minimum rights that all workers should benefit from so as to “avoid unfair practices” and “prevent abuses”. These rights could concern probation periods, a minimum benchmark for working time periods and minimum working hours, the right to training, the right to a notice period for contract termination and the right to request a change in the type of employment, as well as protection from unfair treatment, plus the right to recourse.
The second consultation concerns access to social protection for non-standard workers so as to “better align social protection across all the new forms of employment and so that as many workers as possible are covered including those working in the gig economy,” Commissioner Thyssen explained. The Commission suggests several actions : ensuring similar social protection rights for similar work, tying social protection rights to individuals and making them transferable, making social protection rights and related information transparent, Simplifying administrative requirements. In this topic, the European Commission is limited since the organization of the social protection system is a national competence.