Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Increasingly Equalized? A Study of Part-Time Work in 'Old' and 'New' Part-Time Work Regimes

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Increasingly Equalized? A Study of Part-Time Work in 'Old' and 'New' Part-Time Work Regimes

Article excerpt

Introduction

Equalization of part-time work with full-time work has been identified as crucial to achieve gender equality, to facilitate work-family reconciliation and to boost women's entry into paid work within a context of increasing labor shortages (Messenger 2011; Yerkes and Visser 2006; O'Reilly and Fagan 1998; McCann 2004; Connolly and Gregory 2008). Three conditions for equalization appear particularly important. First, access to part-time work is crucial to ensure equal access to employment for workers of varying capacity. Second, working conditions and social standards must be equal for part-time and full-time workers. Third, career obstacles associated with part-time work must be removed. Together, these three conditions may help equalize part-time work with full-time work and reduce the gendered distribution of part-time work (Ibid; EU part-time directive 97/81/EC; ILO Part-Time Work Convention 1994).

This paper examines the extent to which part-time work is actually undergoing a process of equalization with full-time work in terms of access, working conditions and career opportunities. The paper focus on equalization in the formal regulations, more specific in legislation and collective agreements at sector and company levels. Formal regulations, however, may not be enforced or they may be undermined by informal attitudes or practices (Thomlinson 2006). Therefore, this study is also based on interviews with employer and employee representatives about the enforcement of regulations at company level.

The paper compares countries which represent different phases of adapting to parttime work and female labor market participation. The 'new' part-time work regime is represented by Ireland, while Norway and Sweden represent the 'old'. In Ireland, women did not take paid work on a large scale until the 1990s and the country is in an early phase of adapting to part-time work (Lewis 1992). Bosch (2001, p. 72) argues that Ireland has a very traditional working time structure. The single male breadwinner is still, by clear margin, the dominant form of economic activity in households with children. In the Nordic countries, however, part-time work has been prevalent since women entered the workforce in the early 1970s (Ellingsæter 1992; Bosch et al, 2007). It is reasonable to expect more equalized part-time work in Scandinavia because of the longstanding policy commitments to gender equality, high-quality working conditions and welfare states that facilitate dual-earner families (Esping- Andersen 1990; Gallie 2003; Bosch 2001; Connolly and Gregory 2008). Welfare state development and industrial relations have been influential in structuring distinctly different profiles of part-time work because such institutional features affect both women's choices and the degree of marginality in part-time jobs (Ellingsæter 1992, p. 135). Based on these differences between the countries, we examine if part-time work has become more equalized in the two 'old' part-time work regimes or if it remains associated with disadvantages with regards to access, working conditions and career opportunities.

To examine regulations and their enforcement in a fairly similar context across the countries, the banking sector was selected as a case. Banking is an interesting case for several reasons. It is faced with the challenge of handling work-family reconciliation as it has employed female workers for decades. Moreover, it is reasonable to expect equalized working conditions because of the high coverage of collective agreements. Moreover the workforce is increasingly professionalized after the comprehensive restructuring of the industry in the 1980s and 1990s (Regini et al., 1999, p. 15-20). Whereas regular bank staff in retail banking used to have low formal education, they now tend to have a lower / medium level degree from university or university college. Hence, part-time workers in banking may be regarded as 'part-time professionals' (Dick 2010). …

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