EU Member States are testing varied and different approaches to aid parents improve the balance between their work and family life. Examples of experimental measures employed at national level – and broader national perspectives – were presented at a seminar in Rome on 9 October 2009, which was hosted by the Italian Department for Family Policies, in cooperation with the European Commission. The meeting was held within the framework of the EU Expert Group on Demographic issues.
The morning session of this peer review workshop was devoted to highlighting Article 9 of Italian Law 53, which was introduced in 2000 and transposes the 1996 EU Directive on parental leave. Opening speaker, Francesca Pelaia from the Italian Government unit dealing with family policy, indicated this law is the first in Italy to refer to reconciliation of work and family. She further outlined its aims to achieve a more equal distribution of family responsibilities from a gender perspective, greater flexibility in public service schedules and increased involvement of enterprises and social partners.
Article 9 provides for “experimentation of positive action” measures regarding work-life balance, financing for which has been managed by the Italian Department for Family Policies since 2007. Enterprises of all sizes and even self-employed persons are eligible. Funding can cover a wide range of activities, including for flexible working, training programmes to return to work after a break and childcare provision. Between 2001 and 2008, 684 projects were approved, totalling almost €43 million. In 2008 alone, €13.6 million was spent, reaching almost 5,000 end beneficiaries, more than 80% of whom were women. Ms Pelaia however noted a clear regional disparity in take-up, which has been higher in the north of the country.
The seminar’s afternoon session put Italy in the context of reconciliation measures in other Member States. Suzan Aafjes (Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands) presented ‘Task Force Part-Time Plus’, a governmental programme to encourage part-timers to increase the number of hours they work.
Henrike Werner (German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth) presented the programme ‘The Family: a Factor for Success’. While sharing the aims of Italy’s Article 9, this initiative is not based on legislation, but rather takes the form of a voluntary “alliance” between government, entrepreneurs and trade unions.
Other speakers focused more on the challenges faced in their countries. Jerzy Ciechański (Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs) suggested that the family aspirations of Poland’s 1980s baby boom generation and revision of social spending (due to the financial crisis) presented an opportunity to re-shape the Polish approach, with the childcare system being among the top priorities.
Maya Miljanic-Brinkworth (Maltese Ministry for Social Policy) pointed to the particularly marked discrepancy in Malta between the high employment rates of young women in general and the low employment of young mothers. Reconciliation possibilities are especially limited in the private sector.
Final speaker Kateřina Čadyová (Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs) outlined the new government’s priorities in family policy, namely reconciliation of work and family life, promotion of active fatherhood and promotion of innovative forms of childcare.