Childcare denotes the care of children that is provided either by parents, the state, a private organisation or other person. It acquires particular relevance in employment and industrial relations when either parent is working and therefore needs time off to look after children or support from external organisations or networks.
A variety of EU policy measures have attempted to tackle the issue of childcare provision. For example, Council Recommendation 92/241/EEC of 31 March 1992 on childcare urges Member States to gradually develop measures to enable women and men to reconcile employment with family obligations arising from the care of children. According to the Recommendation, childcare services should be flexible and diverse enough to meet the different preferences, needs and circumstances of children and families. Moreover, employment should reflect the increased participation of women in the workforce, with the provision of special leave, to enable all employed parents to combine their working life with family responsibilities. The organisation of the workplace should be structured to provide an environment consistent with family and work-life balance. However, a Commission report (4 February 1998) on the implementation of the Recommendation revealed that no Member State had specifically set up a system to monitor its implementation and there was considerable variation in the measures adapted to address childcare issues.
The equal opportunities pillar of the earliest guidelines of the European Employment Strategy deals with childcare under the rubric ‘Reconciling work and family life’: ‘there must be an adequate provision of good quality care for children and other dependants in order to support women’s and men’s entry and continued participation in the labour market’ (Council Resolution of 15 December 1997 on the 1998 Employment Guidelines, as amended by Council Resolution of 22 February 1999 on the 1999 Employment Guidelines).
‘Harder’ law provisions include Council Directive 96/34/EC of 3 June 1996 on the Framework Agreement on parental leave and Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of pregnant workers, and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding.