Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

'Family Friendly' Policies: Distribution and Implementation in Australian Workplaces

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

'Family Friendly' Policies: Distribution and Implementation in Australian Workplaces

Article excerpt


Work and family policies have the potential to address some of the most resilient barriers to women's advancement in the paid labour force by bringing into the public arenas of industrial negotiation and regulation issues arising out of the gendered division of domestic and caring labour. However the impact of such policies is highly contingent not only on the type and distribution of provisions, but also on the way they are implemented in workplaces and utilised by male and female employees.

In this paper we seek to contribute to debates on both the distribution of work and family measures in the Australian labour market, and their impact at workplace level. We begin with a brief clarification of how 'family friendly' policies are conceptualised in this paper, and the implications for our analyses of the current policy framework in Australia. Our empirical research is then reported in two sections. The first focuses on the distribution of work and family policies. Recent research on this topic suggests a number of propositions which we test using data from the Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (AWIRS95). The second section of the analysis examines arguments about the efficacy of family friendly provisions, and the potential to impact on problems of career retention for women and the gendered domestic division of labour. In this section we draw on evidence from employees and managers in six case studies of organisations with progressive work and family policies.

'Family friendly' initiatives

A wide variety of provisions come under the general rubric of 'family friendly' measures. While in a fundamental sense the most family friendly policies are arguably adequate wages, job security and the absence of work intensification, the debates under examination here focus more narrowly on specific initiatives designed to facilitate balancing work and family commitments. These tend to fall into four main groups: leave provisions (such as parental and family leave); flexible hours provisions (including part-time work, job sharing, flexible start and finish times); child care provision or assistance; and support measures (counselling and referral services) (for alternative categorisations, see Glass and Estes, 1997, 294; Glass and Fujimoto, 1995; Bardoel et al, 1998).

Clearly, not all measures have the same potential to facilitate the combination of work and family responsibilities. Moreover, some may be introduced for reasons other than family friendliness, and in some circumstances may constrain rather than enhance the ability to balance work and family commitments. A commonly recognised example is hours flexibility, which may assist with the combination of work and family responsibilities if based on employee autonomy over start and finish times, but be inimical to this goal if it involves irregular shifts or unpredictable hours. These complexities need to be factored into any evaluation of debates over the distribution and effect of work and family policies.

The Australian context

In Australia, work and family measures can be found in industrial relations legislation, provisions in industrial agreements and company policies, and a wide range of informal measures at workplace level. As the other papers in this symposium have shown, Australian legislative standards are comparatively low (see Earnshaw, this volume, for an overview of European provisions; Earle, this volume, for a description of Australian provisions). Responsibility for the broader range of work and family measures lies primarily at workplace level with individual employers--an approach consistent with the pursuit of flexibility through the decentralised system of industrial negotiation adopted by Federal and most State governments. However, it is clear that enterprise bargaining is not in itself the main vehicle through which family friendly measures are being developed. …

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