Sunday, March 20, 2005

Promoting work-life balance

Something else from the now departed Green test blog: Sue Kedgley's Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill (I'll put up a link when it shows up on Knowledge Basket) has been drawn from the ballot. The bill

would give employees with children under five the right to request reduced, part-time or flexible hours. Employers would have a legal duty to consider any such requests seriously, and must be able to demonstrate good reasons for a refusal.

Like Big News, I think this bill is a great idea. Forcing employers to consider reasonable requests for flexibility in the case of parents will not only make it easier for people to juggle work and family, but it will also help promote the idea of work-life balance more generally. And as someone who believes that we work to live, rather than living to work, that can only be a Good Thing.

My major concern is that the bill does not go far enough. Parents are not the only people who need flexibility at work, and the provisions should be extended to cover those with (say) significant caregiving responsibility for a sick or elderly relative, or any other reasonable demand on their time. This shouldn't be just about allowing parents to participate more fully in the workforce, but about helping all of us to achieve work-life balance.

This is definitely a bill the government should support, and I'd also hope United Future comes to the party for such "family-friendly" legislation.

Update (03/04/05): Added link to bill.


Maybe the government should be paying for all of this stuff afterall are we trying to randomly punish employers depending on who was "unlucky" enough to have hired reproductive aged women?
Why not just tax them all and use that to pay for it. as opposed to efectively taxing those that employ women to pay those that dont (competitive pressures).

Posted by Genius : 3/20/2005 10:59:00 PM

Genius: what exactly do you think the government should be paying for? This isn't about giving parents paid time off (at cost to the employer); its about allowing them to push for flexible working hours which suit them. The chief cost to the employer is one of pride, of having to lose the inflexible "full time or nothing" attitude.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/21/2005 07:53:00 AM

It is a good idea. The UK introduced just such legislation not that long ago (a year, maybe two, don't have the info easily to hand right now). So far, there don't seem to have been any cataclysmic consequences. There is an out for employers if their business is such that they can show that it wouldn't be reasonable to employ someone on a flexible basis. Hopefully mostly the parties can sort it out between themselves though there may have to be a few test cases to determine the reasonable threshold. Really, what this sort of legislation is good for is changing norms and getting everyone in to the habit or realizing that workers are people too with a whole lot of responsibilities which don't just stop when they are at work. And actually allowing flexible work practices can increase productivity and reduce staff turn over so it can be a win win for employers too.

Genius, and anyone else who might be interested I have a book recommendation for you: "Unbending Gender: Why work and Family conflict and what to do about it" by Joan Williams. She is a law professor but the book is written for a general audience. I think it is quite a helpful book in terms of getting a handle on issues such as the importance and historical total under valuation of womens unpaid care work as well as its actual inseperability from the world of paid work however much we are used to thinking in terms of the public-private divide.

Posted by Amanda : 3/21/2005 12:35:00 PM

NRT: I mean all of these things. If this is significant then it implies it is a cost to the employer of women and peopel of child bearing age and a benefit to the employers of men and those not of child bearing age. So there is a cost it may be difficult to quantify though.

MTNW: The system doesn't work by paying people their value in cash. the problem is htat there is no way to fairly value work because it is all created by the combination of people working.

For example one could say that the man manning the pump of an oil tanker is fundimentally the key person in the economy. Or that The guy who goes onto the ships to guide them into port is the key person.
the system instead values peopel according ot how much it costs to replace them or what their next best job would be. child caring mothers have a problem in that

A) the next best thing is either childcare or another woman or the man staying home one of which is probably fairly cheap
B) they get other benefits out of the job

Posted by Genius : 3/21/2005 07:48:00 PM

Genius: all of what? What exactly are the costs? The only one that I can see is an HR overhead of having to change work patterns or hire somebody else to fill any gaps - but then, employers would be paying that anyway due to parents leaving the workforce.

PNN: actually, I'm all in favour of you having the flexibility to spend more time fishing. And I expect that this bill will help shift workplace culture in that direction. So far, we've only had flexibility one-way, to the benefit of employers. It's time we acknowledged that employees need flexibility too.

(As for why we're using the law to do this, I think its more than justified by the power imbalance between workers and employers)

As for discrimination, the HRA bans discrimination on the basis of family status, which includes not havng children. However, a strong argument can be made that current employer attitudes tacitly discriminate against parents with young children (also a prohibited ground of discrimination), and that this law is justified in removing that discriination and allowing everyone to participate in society. Likewise, I don't see it as social engineering, any more than I see maternity leave or the provision of schools as such; this is a measure to enable choice and give people control over their own lives, not to encourage them to have kids.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/22/2005 12:14:00 AM