a) The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
Article 23 of the Charter provides that equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay. The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex. Article 33(2) of the Charter stipulates that in order to reconcile family and professional life, everyone shall have the right to protection from dismissal for a reason connected with maternity and the right to paid maternity leave and to parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child.
b) The legislative powers and their limits
According to Article 153(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Union is empowered to adopt measures to support and complement the activities of Member States inter alia in the fields of workers' health and safety, working conditions and equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work. Article 157(3) TFEU empowers the Union to adopt measures to ensure the application of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation. Directives adopted on the basis of Article 153 TFEU shall avoid imposing administrative, financial and legal constraints in a way which would hold back the creation and development of small and medium-sized undertakings.
c) Existing measures
Council Directive 92/85/EEC(75) requires Member States to provide workers with maternity leave of a duration of at least 14 weeks, with an allowance at least at the level of sick pay. Directive 2010/41/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council(76) stipulates that female self-employed workers and the female spouses and life partners of self-employed workers need to be granted sufficient maternity allowance to enable the interruption of their occupational activity on account of pregnancy or motherhood, for a period of at least 14 weeks. The revised Framework Agreement on parental leave concluded by social partners (BusinessEurope, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC) - implemented at Union level by Council Directive 2010/18/EU(77) - gives male and female workers an individual right to parental leave of at least four months and requires Member States to take measures to ensure that workers may request a change to their working hours and/or patterns when returning from parental leave, for a set period of time. The Framework Agreement on part-time work concluded by UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC - implemented by Directive 97/81/EC(78) - protects part-time workers from being treated less favourably than full-time workers and provides that employers should give consideration to requests by workers to switch from full-time to part-time work or vice-versa.
(75) Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding, OJ L 348, 28.11.1992, p.1.
(76) Directive 2010/41/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 July 2010 on the application of the Principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity, OJ L 180, 15.7.2010, p.1.
(77) Council Directive 2010/18/EU of 8 March 2010 implementing the revised Framework Agreement on parental leave concluded by BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC, OJ L68, 18.3.2010, p.13.
(78) Council Directive 97/81/EC of 15 December 1997 concerning the Framework Agreement on part-time work concluded by UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC, OJ L14, 20.1.1998, p.9.