New measure to help mothers return part time to the public sector

Mothers wishing to return to work face many difficulties. Promoting atypical forms of employment is one way of facilitating their reintegration into the labour market. On average, only 4.3% of employees in Hungary worked part time in 2008 compared with 17.6% in the EU27. New legislation seeks to address this low proportion by obliging public sector employers to allow part-time employment for women wishing to return to work before their child is three years of age.

Women who take maternity leave face many difficulties when they try to return to the labour market after their child is born. Providing good quality state-run childcare facilities and a basic education system could help women deal with the challenge of simultaneous child-rearing and work by making part-time employment and other atypical forms of work possible.

Part-time employment – facts and figures

In general, the average proportion of part-time employment in the EU27 was significantly higher between 2000 and 2008 than that in Hungary (Table 1).

Table 1: Part-time employment as a percentage of total employment
  2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Hungary 3.4 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.3 3.9 3.8 3.9 4.3
EU27 15.8 15.7 15.7 16.1 16.7 17.3 17.5 17.6 17.6

Source: Hungarian Central Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, KSH)

If the data are broken down by gender, the difference between men and women turns out to be noteworthy: while only around 8% of male employees work part time in the EU as a whole (data from Eurostat), the female part-time employment rate is relatively high in general (which results in the average values displayed in Table 1). In Hungary, there was a significant growth in female part-time employment between quarter 1 of 2007 and quarter 3 of 2009, while the respective percentage in the EU27 changed only slightly during this period (Table 2).

Table 2: Female part-time employment as a percentage of total employment
  2007Q01 2007Q02 2007Q03 2007Q04 2008Q01 2008Q02 2008Q03 2008Q04 2009Q01 2009Q02 2009Q03
Hungary 5.7 5.7 5.9 5.8 5.9 6.0 6.1 6.7 6.9 7.6 7.9
EU27 31.5 31.3 30.8 31.1 31.3 31.1 30.6 31.2 31.4 31.5 31.2

Note: The data cover women aged 15–64 years.

Source: Eurostat, May 2010

New regulation in public sector

With the aim of facilitating the spread of various forms of part-time employment, labour legislation in Hungary was recently amended and came into effect in January 2010. The new law obliges public sector employers to allow part-time employment for women wishing to return to work before their child is three years old.

A part-time employment model can be put into practice if both the employer and employee agree on a special employment contract in which weekly and daily working hours are specified. If the employee wishes to switch to (or back from) an alternative schedule, the employer is obliged to issue a written decision within 15 days of receiving the employee’s request. The employee in turn has to request part-time employment at the latest 60 days before coming back to work.

Employment protection is still granted until the child reaches the age of three years, irrespective of whether or not the employee has taken unpaid leave before. After that, employees have to be employed for the same hours as before childbirth, which means eight hours a day in most cases. Alternatively, they may request part-time employment but, in this case, the employer has the right to decide whether to grant it or not.

Reservations about the measure

There are some concerns about the new measure. First of all it does not apply to those in management positions or to mothers working in the private sector. In addition, the part-time employment model cannot be implemented in every workplace in the public sector.

It is also doubtful whether nursery schools (childcare provision) have the capacity to keep up with the potential increase in demand for places. The development of the nursery schools is considered to have a beneficial effect on the relation between childbirth and career, with the lack of good childcare options often posing a challenge for women.

On the other hand, the fact that childcare allowances are provided for a relatively long period in Hungary may encourage women with young children to stay at home longer than in other countries rather than seeking to return to work under the new measure (potentially weakening their career prospects).

Commentary

It is hoped that the new regulation will have a positive effect on the reintegration of young mothers in the world of work. The rise in part-time employment in Hungary over the last few years illustrates the demand for alternative work schedules. The recently adopted measure may contribute to further improvement in this respect.

References

Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH), Statisztikai Tükör, 2010/6 (in Hungarian, 199Kb PDF), 28 January 2010.

Eurostat, Eurostat Pocketbooks: Labour market statistics, 2009 edition (4.42Mb PDF), Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 2009.

KSH, Részmunkaidős foglalkoztatási arány (2000–) [Part-time employment rate (2000–2009)].

Tamás Harmat and Katalin Balogh, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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