Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Managing Organized Insecurity: The Consequences for Care Workers of Deregulated Working Conditions in Elderly Care

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Managing Organized Insecurity: The Consequences for Care Workers of Deregulated Working Conditions in Elderly Care

Article excerpt


Working part-time is more than twice as common among women than men in Sweden, that is, 30% for women and 11% for men (SCB, 2014a). This gendered distribution of part-time work is no different from the situation in the other Nordic countries (Wennemo et al., 2014) or the rest of the western world (England, 2005). Part-time work can be voluntary or involuntary, but in either case, the salary is lower and affects the ability to be self-supporting. Lower income also means lower reimbursement rates for parental and sick leave, unemployment benefits, and lower pension payment. The biggest part-time employer is the care service sector (Jönsson & Hartman, 2008), where part-time is more common than full-time employment for the two biggest occupational groups in Sweden, namely nursing assistants and care assistants (i.e., care workers) (Daly & Szebehely, 2012; Werkelin Ahlin & Vinge, 2013), of whom 93% are women (SCB, 2014b). The most common reason for working part-time is that full-time employment is not offered (SCB, 2014a), which is more than twice as common regarding women (162,000) than men (79,000) (SCB, 2014b). In 2011, the number of part-time unemployed women was nearly as high as the number of full-time unemployed (Nyberg, 2012).

In the period 2002-2005, a government equity initiative aimed to increase the number of full-time jobs was launched in Sweden. A sum of SEK 150 million was allocated to support employers willing to start projects (under the initiative umbrella called HelaProjektet) that would lead to full-time employment within existing budgets [Arbetsmiljöverket (Swedish Work Environment Authority) 2006]. Around 70 projects were completed, of which 40 were carried out in the public sector. The majority of these projects took place in the municipal elderly care services and included trying out time-scheduling models, which affected 8000 care workers (Jonsson, 2011). The time-scheduling models had elements of unplanned working hours when the permanent staff were expected to circulate between different workplaces to replace co-workers on temporary leave. Previously, temporary staff had been hired. The increased cost of full-time jobs could be balanced against the reduced cost of temporary staff (Jonsson, 2011). The new models included all care workers, even the existing full-time and voluntary part-time employees, thus making demands on their loyalty (Delander et al., 2006). The proportion of full-time employees doubled from 28% to 55%, while the total number of care workers remained the same because of a considerable reduction in temporary employment (Arbetsmiljöverket, 2006). Although the number of full-time employees doubled, it did not follow that they started to work full-time (Gustafsson Hedenström & Swahn, 2011; Jonsson, 2011). A conclusion drawn from the HelaProjektet, however, was that it is possible to increase the number of full-time employments without increasing costs, especially in major public organizations [Riksrevisionen (The Swedish National Audit Office) 2014]. Most of the projects were incorporated into the regular organization (Arbetsmiljöverket, 2006).

Time-scheduling models with elements of unplanned working hours have been widely introduced. According to a study by the Municipal Union, organizing care workers, 44% of Swedish municipalities have implemented the right to full-time employment with different models of working hours, usually involving elements of unscheduled working hours (Gustafsson Hedenström & Swahn, 2011). Our study centers on the shared feature of the models in elderly care services, that is, the unscheduled working hours. Typical of this system are workplace needs of flexible work hours and the employer's ability to temporarily relocate permanent staff. There are reasons to clarify how the system of unscheduled working hours has been organized in elderly care.

Full-time employment in elderly care through unscheduled working hours

The Swedish elderly care policy rests on two principles, the same as in the other Nordic countries. …

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