Work/Life Balance in Four European Countries: A Selection of Local Specifics
Project partners cooperating in the project entitled “Reconciliation of Private and Family Life in the International Context: Transfer of Know-How and Development of a Thematic Network” have shared with us a description of the possibilities for achieving work/life balance in their countries – Poland, Germany and Slovakia. We have selected the most interesting parts of their analyses which we bring in the article below. And since Gender Studies, o.p.s., a Czech non-profit, is the project implementer, we also add a short passage explaining what are some of the biggest barriers in reconciling work and childcare in the Czech Republic.
Czech Republic – Linda Sokačová, Gender Studies, o.p.s.
The Czech system of maternity and parental leave is two-tier. A woman goes on maternity leave six to eight weeks before her official due date and it lasts 28 weeks. The father may go on paternity leave after the elapse of the first 6-weeks after the birth of the child and when he does he has the same rights and responsibilities as women (this ‘paternity leave’ is officially termed ‘parental leave’). After maternity leave the parental leave follows, which lasts until the child’s third birthday. The person taking care of the child may afterwards ask his/her employer for a grant of unpaid leave until the child’s fourth birthday. Even though the Labor Code contains many provisions designed to protect parents (usually mothers) returning from parental leave to work, employers – mainly in the private sector – do not comply with these provisions and it is not in their interest that parents return to work. Unfortunately, it is not customary to keep in touch with parents on parental leave (usually women, who constitute the majority of persons on parental leave) in the Czech Republic. Therefore, women come back to work after three or four years of no communication with their employer, which causes problems for both sides. Moreover, it is fairly complicated to work while being on parental leave because the woman/man on parental leave cannot work at the same post but he/she has to sign a new contract for a different kind of job with the employer. It is a problem to find a completely different position for many employers (for example in public and state administration, non-governmental, non-profit organizations etc.). There are still very few part-time job offers, jobs with flexible working hours or jobs that can be carried out from home, all of which make it easier to harmonize family and work responsibilities. The lack of accessible childcare services for children under three and the low capacity of nursery schools (from the age of three), caused by the increased birth rate of the past few years, make participation in the working process of mothers and fathers who take care of their children more difficult.
Slovakia - Sylvia Porubänová, Institute of Labor and Family Research
What are the main work/life balance issues in present-day Slovakia?
•Women are typically in a worse situation than men. The position of women is more difficult (women carry the burden of care for all the family members as well as the household) so they (choose to) use all their individual resources, willpower, and other strategies to meet the expectations of both their employers and their families.
•In line with traditional gender stereotypes, women’s roles as mothers and primary caregivers in the family are seen as barriers to their top performance at work. This notion reinforces the traditional perception of motherhood and career as contradictions.
•little interest and awareness about work/life balance policies among relevant social actors
•lack of recent representative data on people’s attitudes to flexible work options and on the demand for family care services, for instance
•lack of information on the reality of work organization and time management in Slovakia and other EU countries
Poland – Julia Kubisa
The most interesting (as well as challenging to old cultural patterns) element of the recent novelization of the Polish Labor Code was the introduction of paternity leave in 2010 – fully paid two weeks. It is not much taking into consideration the amount of time needed for taking care of a newborn or a toddler, but it is a socio-cultural novelty. When the debate about paternity leave began a couple of years ago, it was perceived as an additional holiday, as fathers were not perceived as willing to participate in care and responsibility for their children (apart from the financial support). After the first year, it is visible that the access to paternity leave is not equal for all, which is a result of the lack of information campaign from the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Fathers employed in the public sector take paternity leave more often than in the private sector. Employees and employers are not aware about this solution and sometimes treat it as some kind of a “privilege” and not a right.
The second change in the family policy which was introduced in 2011 is, what is called, a “nursery bill” which facilitates the building of new public nurseries (financed partially by the state and partially by local governments), aids legal employment of nannies (the state pays a part of their wages) and introduces a “day care person” who may take care of a small group of children in a private apartment, working on a contract with a local government (day care person must have some kind of professional experience and education).
Germany – Maresa Feldmann, Monika Goldmann, sfs TU Dortmund
In Germany, children from the age of three until school age have a legal claim for a place in a kindergarten (for four hours a day). Opening times and costs for their services vary from one German Land (state) to another. There are still strong differences in coverage rates between West and East Germany. Center-based crèche services are available for 14,6% of children aged up to three years in West Germany and 46% in East Germany. Kindergarten services are available for about 92% of children from the age of three to six in the West (22,7% all-day services) and 95,1% in the East (65,3% all-day services). After-school-services are available for 5,3 % of children aged six to ten in West Germany and 42,1% in East Germany. Prices for public childcare differ between communities and regions and are massively subsidised by tax payments. (1)
German employees have a legal claim for working time arrangements and other basic conditions that allow them to reconcile work and family life. Employees in a company with more than 15 people have the right to demand a part-time job when they have been working for that company for at least six months. The employer may reject this demand when it clashes with work organisation. More than one quarter of all employed persons in Germany worked on a part-time basis in 2008 (2). Most of them (80%) were women. 46% of all employed women in Germany work part time (and only 10% of men). In most cases, the reason for working part time is care for children or elderly people.
Germany is one of the countries with the highest proportion of enterprises (more than 70%) providing flexible working time arrangements (3). Many enterprises offer their employees the use of accumulated hours for longer periods of leave (21%) or for single days off (17%). Some offer the possibility to vary start and end of daily work but no accumulation of hours (6%) (4). In 2009, 22% of the enterprises offered their employees the possibility to use “home office.”
(1)bmfsfj: Gender Datenreport: http://www.bmfsfj.de/Publikationen/genderreport/5-Vereinbarkeit-von-familie-und-beruf/5-8-kinderbetreuungsangebote-und-erwerbstaetigkeit.html, 28.02.2011
(2)OECD: ALFS Summary tables, http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=451, 28.02.2011
(3)European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions: Part-time Work in European Companies; http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/pubdocs/2006/102/en/1/ef06102en.pdf, 28.02.2011
(4)CESifo DICE Report 3/2009: Flexible Working Arrangements, http://www.cesifo-group.de/portal/page/portal/DocBase_Content/ZS/ZS-CESifo_DICE_Report/zs-dice-2009/zs-dice-2009-3/CESifoDICEreport309.pdf, page 73-74, 28.02.2011