Social partners agree new provisions on parental leave
In April 2009, in the framework of an ad hoc Technical Committee appointed by the Labour Advisory Board within the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, the social partners unanimously agreed on a range of legislative amendments on parental leave. The amendments aim to make parental leave more attractive for working parents and to increase the uptake of such leave. Whether workers will receive benefits while on parental leave remains subject to political decision.
Amending the existing legislation on Parental Leave and Leave on Grounds of Force Majeure, Law 69(I)/2002 and Law 111(I)/2007, was the subject of social dialogue in the framework of an ad hoc Technical Committee that met on 29 April 2009, following a decision by the Labour Advisory Board within the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων).
The committee comprised: the Department of Labour Relations of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance on the government side; the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Κυπριακό Εμπορικό και Βιομηχανικό Επιμελητήριο, ΚΕΒΕ) and the Employers and Industrialists Federation (Ομοσπονδία Εργοδοτών και Βιομηχάνων, OEB) on the employer side; and the Democratic Labour Federation of Cyprus (Δημοκρατική Εργατική Ομοσπονδία Κύπρου, DEOK), the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PEO) and the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (Συνομοσπονδία Εργαζομένων Κύπρου, SEK) on the trade union side.
Parental leave legislation and uptake of leave
On the legislative level, the basic law on Parental Leave and Leave on Grounds of Force Majeure, Law 69(I)/2002, came into force in Cyprus on 1 January 2003 for the purpose of harmonising national legislation with Council Directive 96/34/EC on the framework agreement on parental leave. On a recommendation from the European Commission in March 2007 regarding incorrect transposition of the directive at national level in Cyprus, and specifically with regard to clauses 2.1 – granting men and women an individual right to parental leave – and 2.4 – ensuring that workers can exercise their right to parental leave without risking dismissal – of the framework agreement on parental leave appended to the directive, the relevant national legislation was amended with the passage of Law 111(I)/2007.
Hence, the legislative arrangements proposed by the social partners essentially refer to the first amendment, which will not be made for harmonisation purposes but for the purpose of real needs at national level. It should be noted that data supplied by the Department of Social Insurance Services (Υπηρεσίες Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων) within the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance show that, from 2003 to the first half of 2007, only 294 applications for parental leave were made, with 283 women and 11 men taking up the opportunity. In this context, the draft law under examination aims to improve the functionality of the existing legislation on the one hand, and to encourage eligible parents to make more use of their right to parental leave on the other.
It is noteworthy that the European social partners adopted a revision of the framework agreement on 18 June 2009, allowing for one extra month of parental leave.
Content of draft law
As regards the content of the draft law under examination, the social partners have unanimously agreed to the following legislative amendments:
- transferring two weeks of parental leave from the father to the mother, on the condition that the father has already taken at least two weeks of parental leave. In the view of the social partners, this arrangement is in place under similar laws in other European countries and is considered to be a good means of encouraging fathers to take up their right to parental leave, since paternity leave in Cyprus has not yet been enacted into law;
- eliminating the condition stating that one year of employment with the same employer must elapse from the end of the period of parental leave granted for one child before leave is granted for another child;
- removing the restriction that working fathers may only take parental leave after the end of maternity leave, both in the case of biological parents and in cases of adoption. This arrangement is seen as necessary since many working men have shown interest in taking parental leave in the first weeks after the birth of a child, which is not possible on the basis of the existing provisions of the law;
- extending the period for taking parental leave up to the age of 18 years for children with disabilities, and up to the age of eight years (from the current age of six years) for all other children;
- increasing the total annual duration of parental leave from four to five weeks for people with one or two children and to seven weeks for three or more children. It is understood that this arrangement will also apply to parents with, for example, twins or triplets;
- counting time absent from work on grounds of ‘force majeure’ as time employed for the purposes of the 1965 Termination of Employment Laws as amended up to 2002; this is also the case with regard to parental leave;
- reducing the period for notifying the employer, for the purposes of taking leave, from five to three weeks, in order to better serve working parents in cases where the need for parental leave has arisen after an emergency.
Parental leave unpaid
Apart from the proposed legislative arrangements, the workers’ representatives agree that the basic reason for which parents fail to apply for parental leave relates to the fact that it remains unpaid leave. In view of this, a standing demand of employees is that workers taking parental leave should receive benefits, so that the leave can function as a basic social measure facilitating reconciliation of work and family obligations. However, such a measure is not covered by any regulation in existing legislation, but is subject to political decision.
Eva Soumeli, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)