Foundation Forum: Debate 2

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Living to work - working to live Tomorrow's work-life balance in Europe
Dublin Castle and Loughlinstown House, 3-4 November, 2004

Debate Room 2: Time and flexibility – How working time can reconcile work-life issues

  • Moderator: Shane Kenny, journalist, media consultant and broadcaster
  • Introduction: Agnès Parent-Thirion, European Foundation
  • Discussants:
    1. Linda Hantrais, Loughborough University [Abstract, PDF, 69KB]
    2. Henning Jørgensen, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), Brussels
    3. Ainars Baštiks, Minister for Children and Family Affairs, Latvia [Abstract, PDF, 15KB]
  • Rapporteur: Greet Vermeylen, European Foundation

Summary of the debate by Greet Vermeylen:

The starting point for this workshop was the diversification of working time arrangements in the European Union, not only with a view to the quantity of working hours, but also over the life-course. There are a wide variety of flexible working time arrangements.

The Lisbon agenda has some consequences for these arrangements. In the first place, there is a growing pressure on individuals (men, women, older workers) to participate in the labour market. This can sometimes lead to conflicting demands/pressure on individuals and society. This has implications for families (work-life balance), public services (child and other care) and the care jobs themselves. It also has consequences for population growth (fertility rates). Looking at the European Union, one sees that there is not a 'one-solution-fits-all' idea. One has to look for the appropriate level to take measures. However, it is important to keep in mind that legislation might not be enough and try and keep an eye on practice.

In the second place, quality of work and employment is a key issue when talking about flexibility, working time arrangements and work-life balance. The difference between ‘good jobs’ and ‘bad jobs’ (with often very little opportunity to change) is striking and gives a particular light on the issue. This could be linked also to the notion of ‘decent work’ as developed by the ILO. It is important to try and search for an equilibrium for all parties involved, which might lead to a win-win situation for all.

This is however an issue where an integrated approach is needed, involving different actors, different policies and different levels. It is important to realise that investing in quality of work and employment, keeping in mind the interests, choices and needs of companies and individuals, including their work-life balance, is not just a cost but also an investment.

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