Academic journal article Hecate

'I Just Juggle': Work and Family Balance in Australian Organisations

Academic journal article Hecate

'I Just Juggle': Work and Family Balance in Australian Organisations

Article excerpt

There is a plethora of research that addresses women's need to integrate family and community responsibilities with paid work and an extensive debate on the work and family interface in Australia, and how it can best be accommodated across workplaces. (1) The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) made a submission to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) test case on Work and Family with the emphasis on family leave. (2) In 2005, the AIRC ruled that employees have a right to request family-related leave; increased simultaneous parental leave to eight weeks at the time of birth; increased the total of parental leave to two years, and allowed a return from parental leave on a part-time basis until the child reaches school age. It also extended the amount of time and the conditions under which employees could request leave as carers or in emergencies, but emphasised that all these provisions were dependent on the effect on the workplace or the employer's business. (3) More recent legislation, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005, has rendered even these provisions largely irrelevant, with the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard considerably paring back allowable conditions in industrial instruments. (4)

In Australia, engaging in casual and/or part-time work has been the preference for many women with children, especially in the context of unevenly distributed child care arrangements. (5) Government assumes that part-time and flexible working hours will be in demand, 'especially from those with caring responsibilities' and will involve a significant part of the paid workforce. (6) Individuals and families confront growing time pressures from extended paid and unpaid working hours, and working adults, especially women, juggle paid and unpaid work as time spent in paid work competes with time for children, partners and elderly parents, and time for household chores and personal leisure. (7) This pressure is increasing as demands (time, energy) at home impinge on work performance, and vice versa, (8) Conflicts and tensions arise since role overload or role interference occurs when there is not enough time or energy to meet the commitments of multiple roles or when the expectations and demands of the two roles conflict. (9)

The choice to work full time, part-time, or not at all, most often made by mothers, is dependent on whether they can find accessible, affordable child care, adequate parental leave or an acceptable way of juggling many roles, with the consequence that the choices many women make are constrained, (10) It has been suggested that more equitable sharing of family responsibilities is needed to 'make it easier for both women and men to meet their caring responsibilities as well as to enjoy the rewards of sharing', but also that family- friendly policies in the workforce, mostly used by women, are more likely to entrench women's disadvantage in the workplace than otherwise. (11) Pocock argues that the society lacks a consensus between men and women and among women on these issues, while political and industrial factors make a balance more difficult to achieve: a situation which is likely to be exacerbated rather than diminished as industrial relations reform is extended. Meanwhile, established patterns of men's and women's expectations of work and home life have so far proved intractable. (12)

How, then, in the absence of major cultural or policy change, is it possible for men and women to engage in paid work and be actively involved in family and community at the same time? The older term 'family-friendly' workplace has given way to the concept of 'work-life balance', and a 'perception of satisfactorily resolving the multiple and often incompatible demands of work and family roles'. (13) Programs that promote a work-life balance for women acknowledge the potentially conflicting demands of being a conscientious and committed parent at the same time as being a conscientious and committed employee. …

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