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Project ID: HPSE-CT-1999-00031
Finanziato nell'ambito di: FP5-HUMAN POTENTIAL
Paese: United Kingdom

The employment relationship and family life

The papers in the fourth issue in the series, edited by Peter Ackers, analysed the relationship between employment and family life. The introduction showed how, through their power to regulate employment policy and working conditions, EU and national institutions impact on the everyday lives of families. Government intervention to reconcile paid work and family life was taken as an example of how indirect employment levers affect the quality of family life and legitimate further state intervention.

In his contribution, Devi Sacchetto analysed the new forms of labour contract in Italy associated with flexibility and employability. He argued that they are bringing about a more ‘economic’ attitude to relationships within families, whereby family life is treated as an industrial process. The capacity of the Italian family to adapt to different situations was found to be in a state of crisis. The rigidity of family life in terms of economic needs and care duties contrasts with the total availability demanded of workers in the employment relationship and forms of flexibility on employers’ terms.

In the second paper, Monica Badia i Ibanez described the more heterogeneous model of the family emerging in Spanish society and the self-help strategies parents are adopting to combine work and household life. The lack of effective public policies was found to be reinforcing reliance on the male breadwinner and family solidarity. Kait Kabun’s findings in Estonia were not dissimilar. He explored women’s changing role in paid and unpaid work as Estonia made the rapid transition from Soviet-style socialism to Western capitalism, and prepared to join the European Union. He was interested in the reasons for the relative shortage of public intervention as well as the unwillingness among employers to deal with the reconciliation issue more actively. He identified the rise in unemployment, poverty and social exclusion as the most pressing concerns for government. Employers, he argued, seem to be unaware of equality issues and reconciliation strategies. Although family-friendly company schemes are being promoted, employers have yet to be persuaded by the business case for supporting work–life balance.

Two of the papers focused on British employment policies under New Labour. Peter Ackers maintained that the Blair government has substantially changed the legal and institutional framework of British employment relations, while also helping to shape employer and trade union initiatives in the direction of social partnership and family-friendly policies. He concluded that family-friendly workplace policies remain tenuous. In the past, many of them were introduced during a period of economic boom and abandoned when the economy went into recession. The regulatory framework used by the Blair government to bring in statutory employment rights continues to encounter opposition. Although family-friendly policies are not yet deeply embedded in British workplace culture, they are found to have gained a social momentum due to the growing labour market activity of women that it would be difficult to hold in check. Elizabeth Such was more sceptical about New Labour’s record. Illustrating her case by reference to dual-earner couples and the difficulties they experience in reconciling work and family responsibilities, she pointed out that, although Labour has brought childcare and parental leave back onto the policy agenda, the lingering conception of the family as a private affair has kept its provisions to a minimum.

Roberta Guerrina’s concluding paper provided an overview of EU family-friendly policies and assessed the assumptions the Commission makes about family structures, gender roles and the employment relationship. She asked whether, in the context of the expanded role of the social partners and the changing balance between hard and soft law, a new employment model is emerging in Europe, or whether the relationship is converging towards an established model. Her analysis underlined the significant differences between countries in the application of the principles enshrined in EU regulations. She argued that the regulatory framework continues to provide an important reference point for employers and employees and has strengthened the position of women in European societies, thereby encouraging the development of a more inclusive work culture. In conclusion, she advocated a multidimensional approach to work–life balance policy, addressing both economic and equality issues.

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