Commission highlights importance of good quality childcare

A report adopted in February 1998 by the European Commission outlines the progress made in the provision of childcare and leave arrangements which assist in the reconciliation of work and family life in the different Member States. The report points to continuing disparities in such provisions and the increasing importance of social partner initiatives in this area.

On 12 February 1998, the European Commission adopted a report on the implementation of the Council Recommendation of 31 March 1992 on childcare (92/241/EEC). The Recommendation was adopted as part of the Community's Third Equal Opportunities Action Programme (1991-5) and the Commission's social Action Programme accompanying the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers (the "Social Charter"). Both the Third Action Programme and the Social Charter emphasised the importance of measures to enable men and women to reconcile work and family life. Such measures were to act as a means to achieve greater equality of opportunity for women and men in the labour market. The 1998 guidelines for Member States' employment policies, which were adopted by the Council of Ministers in December 1997 (EU9712174N), also call for adequate provision to be made for the care of children and other dependants in order to enable greater equality in the labour market.

The report reaffirms the central role of childcare provisions in reconciling work and family life. The report was drafted on the basis of answers provided by Member States to a Commission questionnaire. It takes stock of childcare provisions under four main headings:

  1. quality of service;
  2. parental leave;
  3. workplace measures; and
  4. the role of men as carers

Where quality of service is concerned, the report found that systems of childcare provision for children aged between three and six were relatively responsive to the needs of working parents. However, this cannot be said for services for children outside this age group and for families with special needs. In addition, the levels of professional qualifications and training requirements for carers vary widely between Member States and between the different types of service provided.

Whilst all Member States have statutory maternity leave provisions, leave provisions for new fathers, parents of young children and for those wishing to care for dependent relatives are much more limited and diverse (TN9801201S). Financial provisions in particular vary widely between Member States. There has been increased emphasis on the role of the social partners and the workplace in providing improved leave arrangements and care facilities. In the light of public budget cuts, this trend is likely to continue.

The role of men as carers in emphasised, but while it was found that short-term leave is increasingly being taken up by fathers, this is not the case for longer-term care arrangements.

The Commission concludes that much remains to be done at the level of European and national policy making, as well as at the sectoral and company level, to ensure greater equality of opportunity for men and women in the labour market in relation to improving the reconciliation of work and family life, but also in terms of ensuring equality of access to employment, training and promotion, as well as equal pay and working conditions.

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