Parental leave is defined as an individual right to leave for men and women workers on the grounds of the birth or adoption of a child to enable them to take care of that child, for at least three months, until a given age up to eight years, to be determined by Member States and/or the social partners. This definition is contained in the framework agreement on parental leave, which was the first framework agreement concluded by the European social partners, BUSINESSEUROPE (formerly UNICE), CEEP and ETUC, in accordance with the European social procedure outlined in Articles 138 and 139 EC (now Articles 154 and 155 TFEU).. The text of the agreement is included as an annex to Council Directive 96/34/EC of 3 June 1996. The framework agreement provided an outline of general principles to be implemented by Member States on time-off rights for parents in the case of pregnancy and maternity, childcare and urgent family reasons.
Clause 2(2) of the agreement stipulates that the right to parental leave is ‘granted on a non-transferable basis’ so that neither the mother nor the father may relinquish their right to the other. The conditions of access and detailed rules – including whether leave is to be on a full- or part-time basis, is subject to a period of qualification, requires notice to be given and, above all, is to be paid, partly paid or unpaid – are to ‘be defined by law and/or collective agreement in the Member States’ (Article 2(3)). Non-consideration of financial circumstances with respect to parental leave is highlighted in Clause 2(8).
The current agreement also allows Member States and/or the social partners to take the necessary measures to allow workers to take time off from work, in accordance with national legislation, collective agreements and/or practice, for unforeseeable reasons arising from a family emergency in the event of sickness or accident, necessitating the immediate presence of the worker (termed ‘force majeure’ leave).
On 18 June 2009, the European social partners concluded an agreement on the revision of their 1995 framework agreement, the first occasion for revision of any agreement concluded under the European social procedure as outlined in Articles 154 and 155 TFEU. The revised framework agreement applies to all workers with an employment contract or an employment relationship as defined by law. It also applies to adoptive parents. It provides for an increase in the amount of parental leave, from three to four months, and gives the right to request flexible working when returning from parental leave. It calls on Member States to establish notice periods that workers should give in exercising the right to parental leave. Furthermore, it makes part of the leave non-transferable to encourage ‘a more equal take-up of leave by both parents’. The agreement is to be implemented through a new Council directive.
A report published in 2007 by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), Parental leave in European countries, found that while individual take-up rates vary between countries, it is generally women who avail of parental leave. The report also points to the relationship between levels of financial support and take-up levels.