The Parental Leave Directive
: An Exercise In Futility?

  • Sharon Roberts

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines issues surrounding the Parental Leave Directive which is the first pan European non-gender specific right for working parents. The history of the emergence of the Parental Leave Directive is traced and there is an analysis of the nature and content of the Directive and the UK legislation that transposed the Directive into UK law. The thesis sets the issue of parental leave into a number of contexts. These are predominantly the nature and dynamics of family life and the tensions that can arise through aiming to combine work with family life. Key case-law is examined and the legal strategy adopted for this area of law carefully analysed.

    Research has been carried out by others as to the extent of the use made of parental leave rights but the research in this thesis concentrates on the reason why people take leave and the reasons why leave has not been taken and the dynamics operating within family units which influence decisions as to the childcare role between working parents.

    A number of hypotheses are developed for this thesis and explored through field work. The central hypothesis is that parental rights for working parents will be underutilised and overwhelmingly those who take advantage of the rights these will be female. It is further hypothesised that although the unpaid nature of the leave will militate against leave taking, financial matters will not be the sole reason for not taking leave.The fieldwork took the form of a postal questionnaire to patrons of nursery schools in the UK in geographical areas selected for their differing characteristics together with some semi structured interviews which sought to introduce a qualitative data element to the quantitative data to enrich and elaborate upon the findings of the questionnaire.

    Analysis of the completed and returned questionnaires reveals that parental leave taking was not extensive, and that indeed females did predominate. Many of those not taking leave cited several (non-exclusive) non-financial reasons for not taking leave. Several concerned tensions or dilemmas at the workplace, such as anticipated colleague resentment, and a perception of jeopardising a career by taking leave as this would be seen indicative of a lack of dedication. A number of less expected issues surfaced through the field work, such as the major and continuing problem of dealing with the illness of a child.

    Analysis of the semi structured interviews revealed that knowledge of the existence of parental leave rights was very poor indeed. Furthermore its unpaid nature made it a luxury beyond the scope of many especially when coupled with the necessity to still pay the nursery fees whilst on leave. One further theme which emerged in the interviews was the difficulty of combining work and childcare both in the sense of the sheer amount of energy required and the emotional dilemma of remaining loyal to both child, colleagues and employer. Save for two of the interviewees all others showed a genuine desire, translated into practical terms, of men helping with childcare and household tasks.

    The thesis concludes with some reflections on the effectiveness or otherwise of this legislation. This is in the context of apparent deep-seated and extensive societal and cultural factors at both home and in the workplace.
    Date of Award2006
    Original languageEnglish

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