Recommendations for improving work–life balance
A joint research study recommending measures for enhancing people’s work–life balance was published in December 2007. The study describes the current situation in this regard in Cyprus and gives an insight into people’s awareness of this issue. It also proposes measures to improve paternity leave, parental leave, working time organisation, and childcare structures and services. The findings should be used as a basis for public debate towards the creation of targeted policies.
A joint study (in Greek, 490Kb PPT) entitled ‘Models of work-life balance and the demand for gender-based equality of opportunity – Social networks for work–life balance’ was published in December 2007 by the Frederick Research Centre (FRC), the Centre for Social Research and Development (Εταιρεία Κοινωνικών Προγραμμάτων και Σχεδιασμού, EKPROS) and the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (Συνομοσπονδία Εργαζομένων Κύπρου, SEK). The research was carried out as part of the EU EQUAL programme and was co-funded by the European Social Fund and the Republic of Cyprus.
The study was conducted on the basis of a questionnaire, to which 1,114 men and women all over Cyprus responded.
Current situation regarding childcare
When asked who looks after underage children while their parents are at work, 38% of the respondents reported that a grandparent or other relative looks after their child or children, while 29% explained that they leave them at home alone and 26% leave the child(ren) with their spouse. Some 9% of the respondents stated that they leave their child(ren) at a daytime nursery near their home, while 6% employed the services of a paid carer and only 3% leave their child(ren) at a daytime nursery near their place of work. It should be noted that the respondents were allowed to give more than one answer at a time.
When asked which authorities offer childcare facilities outside of school hours, 41% answered that none of the authorities did so, while 50% cited state and municipal authorities; only 5% of the respondents indicated that their employer provides such facilities. However, when asked whether employers could contribute to work–life balance, 78% of the respondents answered in the affirmative. Thus, the study underlines the significant need for greater family support by the state, through the creation of new initiatives targeting work–life balance issues.
Awareness of work–life balance issues
A further problem that was highlighted by the study’s findings is people’s low level of awareness of the current legislation regarding work–life balance issues. More specifically, only 12% of the respondents stated that they had heard or been informed of work–life balance issues. Similarly, as many as 85% of the respondents indicated that they had not been adequately informed about legislation concerning this issue. While 55% of the sample claimed to be aware of the legislation on parental leave, only 30% of them admitted that they were knowledgeable about its content. This points to the lack of sufficient efforts to raise awareness of matters of direct concern to workers.
Proposals for strengthening work–life balance
Based on its findings, the study proposes new measures which the authors consider to be crucial for people’s work–life balance and which may constitute the subject of public dialogue. Among the many proposals put forward in the report are those pertaining to parental leave, paternity leave, working time organisation, and the creation of childcare structures and services.
As regards parental leave, it is proposed to increase the duration of leave from the 13 weeks to which working mothers or fathers are currently entitled to 13 months each. Another suggestion is to pay beneficiaries parental leave benefits equal to unemployment benefits, since at present parental leave is granted without pay and this acts as a disincentive to those entitled to such arrangements.
The study also recommends the introduction of paternity leave, to be granted to the father on full pay during the child’s first year, if the employee applies for it.
In addition, an innovative arrangement in employees’ working hours is proposed allowing for the better organisation of working time. It is recommended that male and female employees working full time should be entitled to work part time for a period of between six and 12 months in the child’s first three years. When this period of part-time employment ends, they should be allowed to return to their previous full-time status. As an incentive to exercise this right, it is proposed that the employees would be granted unemployment benefit during the period of part-time employment.
A further recommendation is to establish nurseries and child activity centres at workplaces, which would offer timetables adapted to workers’ needs, along with high-quality services and competitive prices. It is envisaged that such services would offer an important source of assistance to working parents.
The results of this survey indicate that a large proportion of people lack awareness of work–life balance issues and the laws governing them. The respondents’ answers show that both the state and employers are in a position to enhance work–life balance by providing benefits and proper information in this regard. The authors recommend that the proposals put forward in the study be used as a basis for public debate and intervention by organised groups, especially by the social partners, for the creation of a targeted policy aiming to strengthen work–life balance.
Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)