The issue of “work-life balance and reform of the welfare state” was discussed at a regional seminar on 25 January, organised by the European Commission in collaboration with the Lombardy region under the framework of the European Alliance for Families. Hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, the event brought together representatives of EU regions, ministries of EU Member States, NGOs and social partners. The seminar allowed for a comparison of different innovative approaches and practices in Italy (Lombardy), Sweden (Lindköping (West Sweden)) and Spain (Catalonia). A full report on the day will be soon available on this website.
Linda Hantrais, Emeritus Professor of the Loughborough University, gave an overview of 40-year of family policies. Reconcilia
tion of paid work and family life has long been on the national and EU agendas. Generally, in countries where governments have long-supported childcare provision and parenting, female employment rates and fertility rates are higher today than in countries with insufficient policy support to parenthood. This was echoed by Stéphane Buffetaut of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) who noted that policies have to be adapted to the different stages of the family life cycle. Participants agreed that policies based on a holistic approach to work-life balance are likely to have more positive demographic outcomes.
Giulio Boscagli, Lombardy Regional Minister of Family, reconciliation and social solidarity outlined the key elements of the new Lombardy White Paper. Its aim is to implement a work-life balance strategy based on multi-level and multi-actor governance with the active involvement of citizens. Systemic actions as family mainstreaming, multilevel governance and reconciliation networks and awareness-raising are backed with specific actions (family care responsibilities, time policies, promoting corporate family responsibility, regional level reconciliation) in the three-year cycle of regional planning (2011-2013). He stressed that the Roadmap also introduced an Open Method of Coordination (OMC) to provide a framework for cooperation. The Roadmap will contribute to the implementation of a more person-centred and demand-driven welfare system.
Elisabeth Ramberg, from Social Services in Lindköping (West Sweden) elaborated the key elements of the Swedish family policy. Family support, promotion of employment, gender equality and childcare are also the cornerstones of the Lindköping practice. She highlighted that municipalities and business networks cooperate closely to enhance reconciliation. Furthermore, different associations (sport, leisure, education, sport) enable parents to become more involved in their children’s activities. She stressed that special attention is paid to vulnerable groups as single parents or immigrants to reduce inequalities and to promote social inclusion. Participants also agreed that additional support should be provided for families taking care of disabled or elderly members.
Esther Sánchez, Secretary for Labour and Industrial Relations of the Catalan Government, presented the “temps x TEMPS” project. The 2008-2010 pilot scheme promoted the use of flexicurity measures in 33 companies of the Barcelona industrial belt. Its aim was to demonstrate that firms applying reconciliation measures and new forms of time management have a competitive advantage. 81% of the companies involved in the pilot increased their productivity by reducing stress at the workplace (73%) and by improving the work environment for their workers (84%).
Participants presented further examples of innovative practices: family audit certificates and family-friendly workplace awards that might motivate employers to promote work-life balance.
There is a potential “business case” in promoting work-life balance – Ms Hantrais pointed out, since firms are interested in motivating current staff, reducing staff turnover and sickness absenteeism, reducing workplace stress and generally enhancing worker satisfaction and productivity. Therefore enterprises are paying more attention to work-life balance requirements, not only in terms of the costs of raising children but also in terms of time allocation. Daniel Molinuevo, from the European Foundation for the improvement of life and working conditions (Eurofound), explained that company level measures are classified in three main types: 1) flexibility and flexicurity, 2) care-related supports and 3) other measures like awareness-raising. These measures often supplement or substitute public provisions.
The afternoon roundtable, chaired by Ms Hantrais, provided an opportunity for stakeholders to express their views on how government policies can best help families during the fiscal consolidation.
Paola Panzeri, Confederation of Family Organizations in the European Union (COFACE), argued that not all families are affected by the crisis in the same way. Although governments take country-specific measures, decision makers have to provide additional support to vulnerable families in order to enhance solidarity and social cohesion. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) opposes “budget cuts and rigid rules for public budgets for the next decades” as Claudia Menne, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC said. The Confederation adopted a Declaration on the “Treaty on stability, coordination and governance in the economic and monetary union” on 25 January 2012 that will be followed by text proposals to develop a secure framework for flexible working arrangements. In terms of leave schemes, the revised parental leave directive (2010/18/EU) will serve as a framework, while respecting the diversity of measures taken by the Member States.
Manuela Kron, Corporate Affairs Director of Nestlé Italia, illustrated the importance of gender-balanced leave schemes with their innovative practice of a mandatory paternity leave. She stressed that work-life balance arrangements can be put into practice at corporate level. The key challenge when applying structural changes in human resources management is to create a favourable environment with the involvement of the top management – often inaccessible for female employees with care responsibilities.