The European Union Working Time Directive: Securing minimum standards, with gendered consequences
Women's Studies International Forum , Volume 39 p. 30- 41
Working-time regulation never focused on the promotion of equal opportunities. On the contrary, regulation of working hours has tended to reproduce gendered patterns of work. The European Union's (EU) "bifurcated" approach to different aspects of working-time regulation has been noted by feminist scholars. Picking up this critique, the author closer examines the apparent gender neutrality of the EU's foundational working-time instrument, the Working Time Directive (WTD, Directive), vis-à-vis Directives on Part-time Work and Parental Leave. Using the concept "universe of political discourse," the paper undertakes to look "behind" the regulations, particularly the WTD, to understand more precisely the rationales and assumptions on which they rest, and their gendered consequences. Examination of the EU universe of political discourse on working time reveals that a more egalitarian approach to this area of regulation failed to develop because the EU's institutional framework, competing discourses of flexibility and security, and the political actors with the highest stakes in their respective promotion, have effectively limited or sidelined other rationales for regulation, including those of work-family reconciliation and gender equality. In the end, the legal choices made on the basis of what was politically possible at the time of the WTD's initial adoption and the political pressures surrounding its recent, unsuccessful revision, constrained those actors willing to expand the political discourse and revise the Directive in a way that was more consistent with the promotion of gender equality.