For debate in the Standing Committee — see Rule 15 of the Rules of Procedure

Doc. 9800

7 May 2003

Status of collaborating partners in family businesses

Report

Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men

Rapporteur: Mrs Err, Luxembourg, SOC

Summary

In spite of the European Social Charter and women’s changing role in our society, collaborating partners in family businesses - practically all women - still have no clearly defined status. This absence of status is very regrettable, since it means in practice that the work collaborating partners do is not recognised. Very often, collaborating partners do not have a work contract and do not receive wages, nor do they necessarily benefit from the firm’s profits. Moreover, many collaborating partners depend on self-employed workers for social security, and have only derived social rights. Pension rights in their own name are also not guaranteed for collaborating partners. In these circumstances, collaborating partners who become pregnant or fall ill cannot take time off without harming the business, and so many continue to work. When they reach retirement age, they often receive only a very small pension, if they receive one at all. Lack of suitable training opportunities is another problem.

The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men wishes the Assembly to propose a number of possible solutions to these problems to the governments of member states.

I.        Draft resolution

1.       In spite of the European Social Charter and women’s changing role in our society, collaborating partners in family businesses still have no clearly defined status. It should be pointed out here that nearly all collaborating partners are women.

2.       The Assembly regrets this absence of status, which means that the work they do is not recognised.

3.       Very often, collaborating partners do not have a work contract and do not receive wages, nor do they necessarily benefit from the firm’s profits. Moreover, many collaborating partners depend on self-employed workers for social security, and have only derived social rights. Pension rights in their own name are also not guaranteed for collaborating partners.

4.       In these circumstances, collaborating partners who become pregnant or fall ill cannot take time off without harming the business, and so many continue to work. When they reach retirement age, they often receive only a very small pension, if they receive one at all.

5.       Collaborating partners should be able to receive the training they require. This would make for easier reintegration if necessary, and might make family businesses more profitable.

6.       The Assembly points out that Recommendations No. R(91)2 of the Committee of Ministers and 1321 (1997) of the Assembly contain many proposals on the subjects of social security for workers without professional status, and of the situation of women in rural society.

7.       The Assembly congratulates states which have passed laws on collaborating partners, but considers that the problem of their status has not been solved.

8.       It accordingly calls on the governments of the member states to:

i.       ensure that collaborating partners in family businesses be offered either work contracts and wages, or a share in the profits of the family business, thus giving them financial independence;

ii.       encourage collaborating partners to join social protection schemes in their own name (possibly as self-employed), inform them of the benefits of such action, and introduce tax incentives;

iii. ensure that collaborating partners have the opportunity or the obligation to earn pension rights in their own name;

iv. improve, develop and expand training for collaborating partners, tackling the problems of the cost of training and the time needed to follow it;

v. reserve part of the estate of deceased self-employed workers for collaborating partners, and provide for compensatory payments in cases of divorce or separation;

vi. increase the number of collaborating partners in decision-making bodies (e.g. trade associations, chambers of commerce and industry, and other professional organisations), and make it easier for collaborating partners to be elected to representative positions;

vii. establish observatories to survey collaborating partners and inform them of their rights;

viii. consider the status of other family members working in family businesses.

II.        Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Err

A.        Introduction

1. The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men considered the draft report on this question at its meeting in Paris on 24 April 2003. On 3 April 2003, the Committee had appointed Mr Gaburro (Italy, EPP) the Rapporteur on this subject, replacing Mrs Korhonen of Finland who was leaving the Assembly. Mr Gaburro only had a very short time – less than three weeks – to prepare his excellent draft report. Unfortunately, Mr Gaburro resigned from his Rapporteurship when the Committee, at its meeting in Paris on 24 April 2003, decided to change the use of language in the report and its title from “status of assisting spouses in family businesses”1 to “status of collaborating partners in family businesses”. I was thus asked to present the adopted report to the Standing Committee. What follows is thus an amalgam of Mrs Korhonen’s and Mr Gaburro’s excellent work.

2. In most of the member states, partners collaborating in family businesses currently constitute a category of workers not fully covered by the social rights recognised in the European Social Charter.

3. This applies in particular to pension rights, sickness and maternity insurance and inheritance rights.

4. Most collaborating partners, who are unpaid, fall into an anomalous category and have no social status.

5. Statistics show that most collaborating partners are women, although the proportion appears to be decreasing: the figures were 98.9% in 1985 and 95.5% in 1996.

6. Today's social context, and especially the general development of women's status in our societies, makes the question of collaborating partners' status more pressing than ever. While the traditional family structure of husband plus wife and children was the norm for a long time, the pattern has recently become much less clear-cut. Increasingly, family units are breaking down, divorces and separations are becoming more common, and there are now many single-parent families. As a result of such changes former collaborating partners can find themselves alone with no resources and little or no social protection although the fact is that, by assisting their partners, they helped to earn an income which paid for a system of social protection to cover their partners but not themselves. Collaborating partners also continue to face more traditional risks such as the early death of their partners. Clearly, therefore, current social protection arrangements for partners on the basis of derived rights are no longer satisfactory.

7. Moreover, as a result of developments in our societies in the last 30 years, women have acquired a wider range of individual social rights because, whether employed by others or self-employed, they have had their own jobs. Yet these changes have not benefited women at home or collaborating partners (two roles, incidentally, which are often confused). The work that such women do is not always properly recognised, and only their status in a recognised partnership gives them entitlement to derived social rights. It is hard to reconcile this situation with the concept of individual rights depending first and foremost on the individual person and the work that he or she does. Nor does such a situation afford the woman due recognition as a worker.

8. Individual dignity is at issue here but a more practical problem also arises in the event of separation, divorce, the death of the self-employed partner, or difficulties in the family business. Apart from the loss of derived social rights (in the first two scenarios), the lack of recognition for work done in the home or the family business will constitute a handicap for those who may wish to seek work elsewhere on the labour market.

9. For all these reasons, the question of collaborating partners' status requires serious and urgent consideration as it is no longer compatible with social realities.

10. It has been hard to obtain accurate data on numbers of collaborating partners, their situation or indeed the types of work they do and their working conditions. This difficulty arises because collaborating partners have no specific status: they do not constitute a recognised category for purposes of labour market research or, in particular, statistics.

B.       Problems caused by the collaborating partner’s lack of status

Lack of remuneration

11. The first point to be made is that, in general, very few women receive remuneration as collaborating partners. This reflects the fact that, in most member states, remuneration of a spouse or the existence of a contract of employment between spouses remains unlawful. The prohibition is justified on the grounds that it is undesirable to create a relationship of subordination between partners in a marriage. While the intention behind such legislation is undoubtedly laudable, the fact that collaborating partners are unpaid deprives them of financial independence – and is, moreover, unjustified for in principle all work merits a wage. From this standpoint, there is a further risk that failure to pay collaborating partners will compound their lack of recognition, leaving them with the impression that they are not doing work worthy of a wage but are merely performing their duty as helpmate in the marriage.

12. Furthermore, partners in such a situation cannot accumulate savings and this can lead to problems in the event of separation or the death of the self-employed worker. The situation of a person with no income or savings, who finds themselves alone and without social protection, is a very difficult one.

Lack of specific status

13. Unlike employees or self-employed persons, collaborating partners have no specific status and find themselves in an anomalous category, which can have the negative effect of denying them recognition for their work. They will not have been issued with any documents such as pay slips and will thus have no material evidence of having worked. When seeking another job – in the event of a self-employed partner death or of separation/divorce – such documentation would prove that the individual had professional experience and had worked in the family business.

14. More generally, this lack of recognition gives society a negative image of collaborating partners, creating the impression that they do not do real work.

Lack of social protection and pension rights

15. While there has been a general trend towards recognition of social rights for all working people, collaborating partners enjoy no such protection. They possess only derived rights (ie they do have certain social rights but only by virtue of being in a recognised partnership with a person who enjoys such rights on his or her own behalf). Their level of social protection is thus limited to sickness insurance and does not include, for example, unemployment insurance or pension cover. Moreover, female collaborating partners will have no maternity cover – even though the absence of a collaborating partner during pregnancy or after the birth of a child can pose a considerable problem for a family business.

16. A further problem arises from the fact that derived rights cease to apply in the event of separation, divorce or the death of the self-employed partner. Collaborating partners thus find themselves without any form of social protection because they had enjoyed such protection only in their capacity as a dependent.

17. Pension rights are also not guaranteed for many collaborating partners. When they reach retirement age, they thus often receive only a very small pension, if at all.

Lack of suitable training opportunities

18. Training and gaining qualifications are particularly important for collaborating partners, for three reasons. Available training is not always suited to the nature of the work done in the family business (particularly in farming). Secondly, training and acquiring qualifications are often motivating factors for collaborating partners and lead to greater recognition of their role in family businesses. Lastly, training may prove well worthwhile for purposes of seeking and doing work outside the family business. Generally speaking, training helps people to work more effectively and can thus contribute to the profitability of family businesses.

19. Should specific training be hard to obtain, there are possibilities for collaborating partners under training arrangements originally intended for other categories of people (students or other groups of workers). In most cases, however, such provision is inadequate.

20. Specific training needs to be provided in, for example, accounting, management, communication, secretarial and clerical skills and aspects of marketing likely to be of specific use to partners collaborating with craftworkers or tradespeople. Similarly, more training courses could be provided for partners collaborating with professionals (covering secretarial and clerical skills etc) and for the partners of farmers (who could benefit from training in accounting, clerical work and farming practices).

21. Finally, the cost of this type of training should not be so high as to place a financial burden on family businesses, for which the time investment already constitutes a big burden.

The problem of reconciling work and family life

22. As noted above, most collaborating partners are women. Traditionally women are responsible for domestic chores and for bringing up children, and as a rule – despite certain intimations of change – they continue to bear these responsibilities, which are very time consuming. Requiring them, in addition, to perform the role of assisting spouse in a family business means making them work much longer hours than they would do in a normal full-time job. That is why failure to recognise the work done by a collaborating partner in a family business, or by a person working in the home, amounts to a glaring injustice.

23. The lack of social cover for collaborating partners before and after childbirth is a further obstacle in the way of reconciling work and family life. In such circumstances either the collaborating partner will be overburdened with work or the family business will lose out.

Risks arising from the lack of security for collaborating partners: a particularly difficult situation

24. The insecure situation of collaborating partners means they risk finding themselves in extreme difficulty from one day to the next. The following three scenarios illustrate the nature of the risks.

i. The first is the death of the self-employed partner. In such an event, the collaborating partner, who has no social rights of her or his own, also loses the derived rights previously enjoyed as a dependent, and is thus stripped of social protection. Nor will the work done by the collaborating partner be taken into account in calculating inheritance rights, and individuals thus affected will have the greatest difficulty rejoining the labour market because they lack training and status and their work in the family business is unrecognised.

ii. The second scenario is that of divorce or separation. In this case, too, the collaborating partner will lose her or his derived rights, and the other consequences outlined above in relation to the death of partner also apply in the event of divorce or separation.

iii. Lastly, when family businesses run into serious difficulties leading to liquidation, the situation of collaborating partners is no better as they find themselves out of work without unemployment benefit, and couples can count only on the benefit entitlement of the self-employed person. The problems for collaborating partners seeking to rejoin the labour market are the same as in the first two scenarios. On the other hand, collaborating partners retain their derived rights in this case because their status does not change.

C.       Progress achieved: the Council of Europe's work and the example set by the European Union and its member states

25. None of the Council of Europe member states currently has legislation that comprehensively addresses the problems posed by the collaborating partner's lack of status. Some, however, have tackled certain aspects of the question. This is true, in particular, of the European Union member states. Moreover, the EU itself, through its various legal instruments, has been part of a general movement to improve the assisting spouse's situation. In what follows, we list the relevant international texts and then seek to identify solutions.

How the question of collaborating partners has been addressed at international level

European Union initiatives on the situation of collaborating partners

26. The European Union has adopted a number of texts on this question. Among the most important are Council Directive 86/613/EEC, of 11 December 1986, and texts deriving from it, on "application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity, including agriculture, in a self-employed capacity, and on the protection of self-employed women during pregnancy and motherhood". As stipulated in Article 2, the Directive covers "a) self-employed workers, ie all persons pursuing a gainful activity for their own account, under the conditions laid down by national law, including farmers and members of the liberal professions; b) their spouses, not being employees or partners, where they habitually, under the conditions laid down by national law, participate in the activities of the self-employed worker and perform the same tasks or ancillary tasks".

27. Article 6 of the Directive provides that spouses assisting self-employed workers should be able to join social security schemes on a contributory and voluntary basis (membership of such a scheme would thus be optional).

28. Article 8 focuses on social protection for motherhood. It highlights the importance of establishing whether "female self-employed workers and the wives of self-employed workers may, during interruptions in their occupational activity owing to pregnancy or motherhood, have access to services supplying temporary replacements or existing national social services, or be entitled to cash benefits under a social security scheme or any other public social protection system".

29. The European Parliament also addressed the issue in its Resolution of 25 June 1993 on the assessment of women's unwaged work.

30. This resolution covers five categories of unwaged work, namely a) unwaged professional work performed by women in the context of the professional activity of their husband, father, family etc in agriculture, the retail trade, a family-run catering establishment or a craft trade, (b) unwaged professional work by the wives of men in certain professions (eg doctors' wives carrying out secretarial or telephone duty), (c) unwaged work of value to society, such as the unpaid care and nursing of children, the sick, handicapped and elderly, (d) housework, (e) voluntary work". It states: "[…] the fact that there is no proper statute of employment for persons performing professional or social activities without payment and without recognition has serious consequences in respect of the right to payment, taxation, social security, access to education and the right to vote and to stand for election in certain vocational and agricultural associations". In the light of all this the Parliament "calls on the Commission to issue a recommendation on promoting individual social security entitlements".

31. In addition, the European Parliament Resolution of 21 January 1994 on the situation of women in agriculture in the member states of the European Community highlights the difficulties faced by women in agriculture, especially those working as helpers on farms. It calls for "Member States to undertake to introduce the necessary measures to recognize the work of female helpers on farms and their contribution to the development of farming and rural life and to recognize the right to a pension for work performed by women on farms". It also emphasises the need to develop "integrated measures to establish social infrastructure with particular reference to health, culture and education".

32. Finally, on 20 February 1997 the Parliament adopted a Resolution on the situation of the collaborating partners of the self-employed which calls, among other things, for "compulsory registration" of collaborating partners; the introduction of an "obligation on Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure that collaborating partners are able to take out insurance cover for health care, retirement, pensions, maternity benefit and replacement services and invalidity benefit"; "the same conditions for access to vocational training for collaborating partners as exist for self-employed workers"; and "the right for collaborating partners to represent their company and/or to vote and stand for election to the appropriate professional organisations".

The Council of Europe and the problems of collaborating partners

33. The Council of Europe has adopted two relevant recommendations, namely:

Provision in domestic law for the collaborating partners of the self-employed

34. What follows is an account of domestic law provisions for collaborating partners in the member states of the European Union. While there has been progress here in certain areas, the legislation in the different countries remains very patchy. Our aim is thus to identify good practices which could usefully be referred to in drawing up a comprehensive statute for collaborating partners. The practices in question are considered in relation to specific problems they may help to address, and are grouped according to various areas of difficulty in the situation of collaborating partners.

Remuneration

35. Lack of remuneration is one problem posed by the collaborating partner's situation. This can be addressed in a range of ways.

36. One solution is to pay a wage to spouses assisting in family businesses; this arrangement depends on the existence of provisions for salaried spouses, such as those introduced in France for the spouses of craftworkers and tradespeople under the Act of 10 July 1982.

37. A second possibility is to pay a deferred claim to the assisting spouse if the self-employed spouse dies or the couple divorce. Such an option exists under French inheritance law (see Act of 31 December 1989) for the assisting spouses of craftworkers or tradespeople (and the provisions have recently been extended to the liberal professions): the assisting spouse receives deferred remuneration which is deducted from the assets of the estate (in effect a form of compensation for non-payment of wages).

38. Thirdly, collaborating partners could become co-entrepreneurs with a right to share in the profits of a jointly run business. This arrangement applies in Finland where, under the system of social protection for persons working in agriculture, spouses are never considered as assistants but rather as co-entrepreneurs or partners.

39. Lastly, Italy has a system based in family law. Since the introduction of a reform on 19 May 1975, Article 230 bis of the Civil Code gives assisting spouses certain inheritance rights: in particular they have a right to be provided for (on the basis of the family relationship) and a right to share in the profits of a business. Assisting spouses lose their rights, however, if the family business ceases to trade, if they divorce or if they stop working for the family business, voluntarily or otherwise. Article 230 is the only case of official financial recognition for women's work in the home.

40. A further problem is the absence of a specific status for the assisting spouse.

41. In some countries, however, spouses have the option of such status. Notably, under the French Act of July 1982 assisting spouses of craftworkers or tradespeople have a choice of status: they may become "a waged spouse", a "spouse co-worker" or a "spouse associate". This option is rarely exercised, however, because of a lack of information about its existence and the cost of affiliation to a social protection scheme.

42. Similarly, Article 230 bis of the Italian Civil Code offers assisting spouses a status and includes regulations on the relationship between members of a family who work in a family business.

43. In most other EU member countries, including Germany and Austria, the great majority of assisting spouses in craft businesses, commerce and industry have the status of paid employees.

Social protection

44. In many cases, social protection arrangements for collaborating partners are limited to the existence of derived rights. Legislation in certain countries, however, gives them the option of affiliating, on a voluntary basis, to social protection schemes originally intended for other categories of worker such as employed or self-employed persons. This option exists, for instance, in France, Greece and Belgium. Denmark is the only example of a country where assisting spouses have the possibility of voluntary affiliation to an unemployment insurance scheme.

45. Under current legislation in some countries, affiliation to a social protection scheme is compulsory. Given that take-up for systems of voluntary affiliation is poor, compulsory affiliation is proving an effective approach. In Portugal, for example, assisting spouses are required to affiliate to the scheme for the self-employed and are accordingly entitled to the mandatory benefits under that scheme; other forms of benefit are also available as options. In Greece, assisting spouses in the secondary and tertiary sectors are compulsorily covered by the system for employees if their main work is in their spouse's business and they are not affiliated to any other scheme. In Luxembourg, affiliation to a social insurance scheme is compulsory, at least for assisting spouses in the agricultural sector; in the craft and commercial sectors exemptions are possible. In Germany there is a system of compulsory pension cover for the assisting spouses of farmers, and accident insurance is also compulsory under an Act of 1 January 1997. Similarly, under Austrian legislation it is compulsory for assisting spouses to affiliate to the agricultural pension scheme.

46. Lastly, some Northern European countries (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) provide basic social protection for assisting spouses inasmuch as their systems are based on the criterion of residency rather than employment.

Reconciling work and family life, and maternity protection

47. Good maternity cover is the key to reconciling the working life of the collaborating partner with family life.

48. In Italy, the provisions of the Act of 29 December 1987 on maternity protection for self-employed women now apply to spouses assisting in family businesses (under Article 230 bis of the Civil Code). In Denmark, assisting spouses in the commercial and craft sectors have been entitled to maternity protection since 1981. In Spain, assisting spouses without status in the commercial and craft sectors are required to affiliate to maternity protection schemes, although maternity insurance is otherwise generally optional. In Ireland all women, without exception, are now covered by the provisions of the 1995 Maternity Protection Act. In France, under an Act of 5 July 1996, assisting spouses of members of the liberal professions are entitled to a fixed maternity benefit equivalent to that payable to self-employed women (the purpose of the allowance being to enable women to take a break from work). In the commercial and craft sectors in France, assisting spouses who are officially registered as such are entitled to a dual maternity benefit (which is also tax-free).

49. Maternity protection takes different forms. Firstly, there are entitlements in kind, which are broadly the same in the different countries and are not contingent on the woman's status. Then there are financial benefits designed to compensate for the absence of the assisting spouse. These may be fixed (as in Denmark) or scaled (as in Spain and Italy), the scale system differing from one country to another. In the agricultural sector certain countries, such as France, make payment of the allowance contingent on the farm employing a replacement for the woman in question. Similar allowances are payable in the commercial and craft sectors. Ultimately maternity protection also depends on the possibilities available for replacing the assisting spouse. Where such possibilities exist, in the form of replacement services, they are little used because of their cost. The notable exception here is Denmark, where replacement services for farmers are subsidised and are thus used by most of the women eligible. Similar arrangements apply in Finland.

Training

50. In the agricultural sector there is a long way to go in meeting the training needs of collaborating partners. Some possibilities for training do, however, exist. Germany, for example, offers a nationally run training course in household and budget management which is adequate for the purposes of book keeping on a farm. In France there are specific courses – entitled 200 Heures – Actives Agricoles – for women working in agriculture. One third of the training time is devoted to accounting and the other two thirds are structured according to the course participants' needs. These courses have proved a great success – the reason being that the Ministry of Agriculture meets the training costs and pays the trainees a daily allowance.

51. Only in the craft sector have courses been specifically designed for assisting spouses. Such courses are run nationally in Denmark and in Spain. At regional level, a specific course for the assisting spouses of craftworkers exists in the German Land of Baden-Württemberg. Although it leads to the award of a diploma, this training scheme has enjoyed only limited success due to its high cost. In Denmark, regional-level training courses are organised frequently. In France two interesting training schemes are on offer. The first is a course in craft and construction business management (Gestion de l'entreprise artisanale et du bâtiment, or GEAB) specifically intended for the spouses of people in construction-related trades. It is a practical course lasting two years, and is co-financed by the relevant guild chambers and the Construction Trades Training Insurance Fund (Fond d’assurance formation des artisans du bâtiment, or FABAB). The second training course leads to the award of a Craft Business Co-worker Spouse's Certificate (Brevet des conjoints collaborateurs dans les entreprises artisanales, or BCCEA); this course consists of A-level standard training in communication, management, secretarial and clerical skills and aspects of marketing.

52. By contrast, there are no specific training schemes for the collaborating partners of members of the liberal professions.

Representation

53. With regard to the representation of collaborating partners in professional organisations or chambers of commerce or industry, there is a glaring lack of provision. In Denmark, however, assisting spouses are eligible for election to office in professional organisations. Likewise in France, co-worker spouses who are registered as such are entitled to represent their companies, vote and stand for election in chambers of commerce.

D.       The persistence of certain problems, and some proposed solutions

54. From the example of the European Union and its members countries, it is clear that the situation of the assisting spouse has been recognised at least to some extent. Nonetheless, while progress has undoubtedly been made, the current state of the law in the various countries is far from ideal. It is clear from an analysis of existing provisions that some of them are ineffective. Recognising this, we have listed the problems that persist and will attempt to suggest solutions.

Outstanding problems regarding affiliation to a social protection and pension scheme

55. The solution provided for in Article 6 of Directive 86/613/EEC of the EU Council of Ministers, dated 11 December 1986, which has been adopted in certain countries, entails giving assisting spouses the option of affiliation to a social protection scheme. Experience with this type of arrangement has shown, however, that in practice very few assisting spouses elect to affiliate. This lack of enthusiasm is a reflection of various factors. Firstly, where assisting spouses are aware of the possibility of affiliation, they do not recognise its importance and fail to appreciate the need for personal social protection. If they enjoy derived rights, they do not see why they should have rights in their own name. They risk losing such rights from one day to the next, however, in the event of divorce or the death of the other spouse, and they then realise the value of voluntary affiliation too late. Another deterrent to voluntary affiliation is the cost of the contributions, which is sometimes too high for family businesses.

56. For these reasons it might seem necessary to introduce a system based on compulsory affiliation, possibly in the category of self-employed workers (so as not to overburden family enterprises with high contributions). It is likely, however, that similar results could be achieved by informing collaborating partners of the advantages of affiliation and introducing tax incentives, e.g. allowing the cost of contributions to be deducted from the taxable income of the business. A system of tax incentives is, in any case, necessary because without it the introduction of compulsory affiliation could lead to widespread fraud. Similarly, it should be ensured that collaborating partners have and take up the opportunity to earn pension rights in their own name.

57. I would like to propose another alternative: what in German is called “Rentensplitting”, splitting a pension. This would mean in this case that collaborating partners in family businesses would split their pension rights when they reach retirement age; thus it would be in the interest of both partners to earn their own pension rights.

Information problems in relation to collaborating partners

58. There is currently a glaring lack of information about collaborating partners and their circumstances (and particularly a lack of statistics). In order to get a better picture of their situation, collaborating partners should be singled out as a specific category in research and data gathering.

59. At the same time, collaborating partners also lack information about their rights. Singling them out as a distinct segment of the workforce and introducing compulsory registration would make it easier to keep them informed about their entitlements.

Factors that impede training for collaborating partners

60. Although a number of specific training courses have been set up, as a rule the training of collaborating partners is still hampered by problems of unsuitable course content, cost, distance and time. Most critically affected are undoubtedly the spouses of members of the liberal professions, a sector in which there is no training provision for collaborating partners. In the agricultural sector, training needs are met only partially. Moreover, where training is available it is very poorly publicised and take-up is therefore low. Only in the craft sector does there seem to be somewhat more effective training provision for collaborating partners.

61. Resolving the difficulties in relation to training for collaborating partners requires action at various levels.

- Firstly, existing training provision needs to be developed and improved, and new courses need to be introduced, taking care to address the problems of distance by offering training where it is most lacking – ie in rural areas – and by tailoring courses to the needs of those concerned.

- Tackling the problems of training costs and the time required for courses is crucial. Even where collaborating partners have the possibility of undertaking suitable training, these two factors remain major obstacles and are pivotal in the decision on whether or not to sign up for a course. Yet it is possible to reduce their dissuasive effect. For example, replacement services such as child-minding could be developed. Similarly, collaborating partners could be given an allowance to offset the potential financial disadvantage incurred by electing to follow a training course; such allowances could be financed from public funds or by private bodies. Tax incentives could also be a useful tool in encouraging more collaborating partners to undertake training; for example, a provision could be introduced whereby training costs could be deducted from taxable income.

- In order to achieve greater take-up for training, collaborating partners will also have to be properly informed about what courses are available and what they entail.

- New technologies also have the potential to resolve some of the difficulties. By enabling people to study at home, they could be used to overcome the problems of distance from training provision and of organising childcare during training.

- Finally, the introduction of official recognition for training would also certainly help to make courses more attractive. Such recognition would make it easier for former collaborating partners to find work outside the family business.

The problematic situation of the collaborating partner in the event of the self-employed spouse's death or of divorce/separation

62. There is a risk in these circumstances – although some countries do have provisions to cover them – that collaborating partners may be denied the value of the work they have done. In effect, if this work is not taken into account in calculating inheritance entitlement or in divorce settlements, the collaborating partner will have worked for nothing, possibly for many years. One solution, in the case of death of a self-employed partner, would be a provision to ring-fence part of the estate for the collaborating partner who has played a real role in the family business. In the case of divorce/separation the balance could be redressed through a compensatory payment.

Shortcomings in women's representation

63. As noted above, most collaborating partners are women. The problems arising from the low level of female representation in decision-making bodies (such as chambers of trade, commerce and industry and other professional organisations) are therefore a further factor in the question that concerns us here. For if women continue to be without an effective voice in professional organisations, there is little chance that the voice of collaborating partners will be heard.

64. Currently, the figure of 10% female participation in a given organisation is regarded as quite good, so efforts are clearly needed to correct this obvious imbalance. While steps will have to be taken to change the essentially male-oriented culture of the organisations, better training for women (and particularly for collaborating partners) would also help.

65. Moreover, although there do not appear to be legal impediments to women's participation in decision-making bodies generally, the situation of collaborating partners can differ here from that of female company directors. Obviously representation at decision-making level depends on eligibility for election to the relevant posts. However, while assisting spouses in France and Denmark may stand for office in professional organisations, their counterparts in many other countries do not necessarily have this right. It is therefore important to extend the eligibility of assisting spouses for election to representative posts.

The particular case of the tertiary sector

66. While the tertiary sector is covered by Directive 86/613/EEC, it has not yet been provided for in national legislation. For this reason, the problem of spouses assisting members of the liberal professions has not been resolved. The issues here are the same as those affecting other types of worker, with certain specificities. The first of these is often the fact that the spouse assisting a member of the liberal professions does not possess the necessary qualifications to practice the profession in his or her own right and thus, as a rule, carries out tasks ancillary to the core activity, for example book-keeping or secretarial services. Any solutions adopted for this category of collaborating partners must therefore take account of these factors (particularly with regard to the provision of appropriate training). Here too, however, recognition of the role of collaborating partners is also essential, for the work they do is real. Few associations are currently considering this question of recognition, although one which is attempting to do so is ACOPSANTE in France.

Lack of status for other family members assisting in family businesses

67. This report focuses on collaborating partners in family businesses. However, in many family businesses, other family members also assist, and experience many of the same problems described in this report. Governments should thus be encouraged to also consider the status of other family members working in family businesses, in particular female ones (such as sisters or daughters).

Reporting committee: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men

Reference to Committee: Doc 8717 reference N° 2504 of 16 May 2000 (extended on 26 April 2002)

Draft resolution adopted by the Committee on 24 April 2003 with 5 votes in favour, 2 against and 1 abstention.

Members of the Committee: Mrs Err (Chairperson), Mrs Aguiar (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Mikutiene (2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mr Baburin, Mrs Bauer, Mrs Biga-Friganovic, Mrs Bilgehan, Ms Castro, Mrs Cliveti, Mrs Cryer, Mrs Curdova, Mr Dalgaard, Ms Fogler, Mrs Frimannsdóttir, Mr Gaburro, Mr Goldberg, Ms Hadjiyeva, Mrs Hägg, Mr Juri, Mrs Katseli (alternate: Mrs Damanaki), Mrs Kestelijn-Sierens, Ms Konglevoll, Mrs Korhonen, Mrs Kosa-Kovacs, Mrs Kryemadhi, Mrs Labucka, Mr Mahmood, Mr Mooney, Mr Neimarlija, Mrs Paoletti Tangheroni (alternate: Mr Scherini), Mrs Patarkalishvili, Ms Patereu, Mr Pavlov, Ms Pericleous-Papadopoulos, Mrs Petrova-Mitevska, Mr Pintat, Mr Pullicino Orlando, Mr Riccardi, Mrs Roth, Mrs Rupprecht, Mrs Schicker, Mrs Yarygina, Mrs Zapfl-Helbling, Mrs Zwerver.

N.B. The names of the members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries of the Committee: Mrs Kleinsorge, Ms Kostenko


1 When some national and international instruments are cited later in this text, I have chosen to keep the old term “assisting spouses” because I have not had the time to verify whether all these provisions apply equally to collaborating partners, or some of them are limited to married couples.