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Slovakia: a focus on encouraging parents and older people into the workplace

In recent years Slovakia has pursued several family policies aimed at improving the living conditions of families with children and help reconcile family responsibilities with work. Increasing the employment rate of parents with small children and helping with child-related costs are considered by the government to be the most important objectives of current family policy in Slovakia. Increasing the low birth rate (total fertility rate amounted to 1.3 in 2012) is not an explicit family policy priority: it is seen as a complex issue which requires interventions across several policy areas. 

Support of parents to combine work and family life

Several social and family policy reforms during the last decade addressed low labour market participation in the country. Efforts were aimed at various groups, including parents of young children. Mothers have the right to maternity leave of 34 weeks (37 weeks for single mothers, and 43 weeks in the case of multiple births), of which six to eight weeks must be taken before the expected date of delivery. During the period of maternity leave, maternity benefit is provided amounting to 65% of the assessment base (daily earnings calculated on the basis of the previous year, with a monthly ceiling of one and a half times the national average monthly wage). Parental leave can be taken by the mother or the father until the child is three years old. For children with long-term health problems, parental leave can be extended until the child reaches six years of age. 

In January 2011 a new form of parental benefit (paid during the period of parental leave) came into force which permits parents receiving the parental benefit to work without the loss of any part of the allowance. In this case, parents must ensure regular care for their child (by relatives, other persons or in formal institutions). The amount of parental benefit is the same (€194.7 per month) for all eligible parents, regardless of hours worked or level of earnings.

In addition, parents may choose between parental benefit and childcare benefit. Childcare benefit is provided to working or studying parents with children under three (or under six in the case of children with long-term health problems) and is intended to cover part of costs related to childcare. Reimbursement of documented childcare costs is provided up to a ceiling of €230 per month and per child where the childcare is provided by a recognised institution or registered childminder. If childcare is provided by relatives or another person who is not registered, the childcare benefit amounts to € 41.10 per month and child (no documentation of childcare costs is required). Choice of childcare benefit will be especially helpful for parents with several children under three where childcare costs exceed the amount of parental benefit. 

Gender divisions remain the challenge

Generally the employment rate for women is lower than that for men. The female employment rate is lower in Slovakia than in the most EU countries (52.7% in 2012, compared to the EU average 58.5%); female part-time employment was at 5.7% in 2012, well below the EU average of 32.5% (reflecting the general low availability of part-time work in Slovakia. Greater discrepancies between the employment rates of men and women emerge in the 25–39 age group, the most common ages for starting a family. Slovakia belongs to the EU countries with the lowest employment rate for mothers, remaining below the EU average. While the employment rate for fathers whose youngest child is under six (83.1% in 2012) is close to the EU average (86%), the figure for mothers (36.1%) is among the lowest in the EU (EU average 59.1%). It partly reflects the fact that parental leave is to a great extent used by women (1–2 % of men take parental leave). 

More widely available pre-school childcare needed

In 2011 Slovakia was below the EU average in terms of childcare provision for children aged between three and compulsory school age (75% of children in this age group were enrolled in childcare facilities versus 83% for the EU as a whole). It also had one of the lowest levels in the EU for participation in formal childcare for children under three years of age (4% versus 30% EU average). There are two possible causes. First, it may result from the design of parental leave (available until the child is three).Second, it may be related to the lack of available places in formal childcare facilities, especially for very young children. 

Slovakia has a quite well developed network of pre-school childcare facilities, but it is biased largely to older children. Nurseries are the most common form of childcare, run not only by public authorities but also by churches or the private sector. They provide services for children from two to six years (or one year before starting compulsory school attendance), but the highest attendance is amongst four- and five- year-old children. In 2008 nurseries were moved from the category of ‘school facilities’ into the category of ‘schools’ and they were officially required to provide pre-primary education (called ISCED 0). As a result, they are now a formal part of the educational system with all the implications that has for quality of care and education. In 2010, there were around 6000 applications for places in nurseries (Herich, J. (2011), Institute of Information and Prognoses of Education) that could not be granted: that is to say 4 children without a place for every 100 children with a place.

Crèches for very young children aged under two are run mostly by local authorities or the private sector. Their monthly costs are often too high to be accessible for low-income families, especially families with further disadvantages, such as lone parents. 

Initiatives to make childcare provision more accessible

The relationship between nurseries and primary school is reinforced also by providing free places for children one year before starting school. Places for children at risk of poverty or social exclusion (that is to say, from families receiving minimum income benefits) are provided free of charge, irrespective of age. In addition, these children are entitled to subsidised meals. 

Focus on financial benefits

Family policy in Slovakia traditionally places the emphasis on financial benefits. There are currently many different types of benefit aimed at different groups. The share of benefits for the category ‘family/children’ represented 1.8% of total GDP in 2011. Generally, the at-risk-of-poverty rate in Slovakia is close to the EU average (26.6% in 2012, compared to 28.1% in the EU as whole). 

Fostering family-friendly workplaces in the context of equal opportunities

In 2000 on the occasion of the UN International Day of Families, the government set up a ‘family-friendly business award’ to recognise employers who create working conditions that take into consideration the family obligations of their employees and who make efforts to help reconcile working and family life. In 2008, it was extended to include evaluation of measures relating to equal opportunities and gender equality. Based on a more complex approach the title of the name of the award was changed to ‘The employer with the best family, gender equality and equal opportunities policies’. Ten criteria were established, including working time flexibility, services for families, personal development of employees, content of work, working conditions, evaluation of employees, company-specific measures. Companies are assessed by a panel consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, employers and employees’ associations, academic and research institutions, as well as non-governmental organisations. On average, 50 companies fulfil all criteria, coming mostly from industry, the health sector, IT, communications and energy sectors.  The award continues to have institutional support. 

Initiatives for active ageing

The concept of active ageing is attracting increasing attention not only from non-governmental organisations and academic institutions, but also from public authorities. In 2010, the education department of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family launched the national project ‘Strategy of Active Ageing for the Slovak Republic’ which was supported from the European Social Fund (ESF). The aim of the project is to prepare a strategy for improving the employability of older people. The inclusion of the issue of ageing among ESF-funded projects reflects its importance for policy-makers to boost employment rate in Slovakia. 

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.