EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Care-related supports – Casa Pia de Lisboa, Portugal


Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Public sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustmentsCare-related supports

Company / organisation name

Casa Pia de Lisboa

Initiative name

Support for employees with children with disabilities

About the company / organisation

Casa Pia de Lisboa is a public institute, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs, although with administrative and financial autonomy. This institute offers education services and temporary accommodation for children and adolescents at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The history of Casa Pia de Lisboa goes back to the eighteenth century, when it was founded as a charity institution. Through the years, the organisation has been restructured and modernised. It is presently made up of 10 schools, educational centres and social residencies, and employs more than 1,000 people.

The initiative

Casa Pia de Lisboa is dedicated to promoting the social inclusion of children and young people. It has a network of crèches, kindergartens, schools and residential centres for children. It also provides a range of educational services to people living in poverty. All of the organisation’s employees can make use of its services and equipment (at favourable prices or for free). In addition, those whose children have any kind of disability or incapacity are offered the option of placing their children in the kindergartens or schools of Casa Pia. There, they benefit from occupational and language therapy, and special education at a symbolic price, for example €5 per month. School equipment and food (lunch and snacks) are paid for by the organisation.

Each child with a disability is given an individual educational plan, developed by professionals with expertise in relevant fields. The institution provides services exclusively for children with specific educational needs. Alternatively, depending on the level of incapacity or disability, these children can also be integrated into regular classes. In these cases, the number of students per class is smaller than in other classes, and an educational assistant must be present, solely to support the child with a disability.

Casa Pia’s employees who have a child with a disability also have the right to use part-time work or flexible working hours, regardless of the age of their child. This provision is identified in the Portuguese labour law as a statutory right, but is still not common practice within most companies in the country.

Employees also benefit from a working time option called continual workday (jornada continua). This involves working throughout the day, without interruption apart from a break of 30 minutes that is counted as working time. It means that the total work day is shortened by one hour, without loss of remuneration. Continual working day was a widely available practice in public sector organisations until 2008. In that year, changes to legislation limited its application to workers whose contract was regulated by the collective agreement of the public sector. In 2010, this working time scheme became fully available to all the workers from the public sector again. Casa Pia was one of the institutions that kept it available for its employees during this period of suspension. This provision is now also covered by the collective agreement that is applicable to the organisation.

Workers have to apply to their direct supervisor for both the continual working day option and the educational services described above. The supervisor approves the application upon consultation with Casa Pia's management.

All employees of Casa Pia are entitled to five hours leave per month, in addition to their annual leave. No justification is required for this. Moreover, employees whose children benefit from Casa Pia’s services can make use of a holiday resort, paid for by Casa Pia.

Responsibility for the implementation of all measures listed above is in the hands of the HR department.

Rationale and background of the initiative

Casa Pia is a long-established institution that has developed a set of HR practices that aim to guarantee good work–life reconciliation for its employees.

The majority of workers have always been women; presently they represent three quarters of the workforce. Moreover, women still tend to be responsible for a considerable amount of family responsibilities in Portugal. For these reasons, the goal of supporting the integration of employees’ working and personal lives has always been a key consideration in Casa Pia's activities.

As a public sector organisation, Casa Pia’s employees are covered by a set of regulations that still provide greater protection than those available to private sector employees. Part-time work, flexible working hours and the continual working day scheme are primarily the result of efforts to implement national legislation. While the continual working day scheme has been discontinued by most other public sector employers, it remains in practice at Casa Pia; it is now regulated by means of a collective agreement.

Due to its field of activity, there is a particularly high level of awareness of social problems affecting vulnerable groups within this organisation. For example, management know that public support in Portugal for families with children or adults with disabilities is insufficient to enable informal carers to remain in employment. To address this, Casa Pia chose to offer its employees easy access to professional caring services. This also keeps workers motivated and makes them less likely to leave their job. Employees’ right to the reconciliation of their work, family and private life has been included in the organisation’s quality strategy for a long time already.

Worker representatives have been involved in the implementation and development of work–life balance provisions. They also made use of their influence by supporting the continuation of the continual working day scheme and its inclusion in the collective agreement.

Results and assessment

Although there is no official mechanism to evaluate the impact of the organisation’s work-care reconciliation initiative, such information has been obtained through various channels. Employees’ work performance assessments present one means of learning if objectives have been achieved and the extent to which employees are satisfied with their working conditions. This system of assessment is available to all public administration services and institutions. It involves a formal evaluation of work as well as an annual meeting with the direct supervisor to define and agree upon the goals for the coming year. This is a valuable opportunity to discover whether the workers’ needs, including those relating to work–life balance, are being met.

Interviews were conducted with one worker who has benefitted from the initiatives described here. In their experience, the educational services available to staff provide working carers with the possibility of investing their money in additional therapy services outside of school. This has proven to be of great importance to their child’s development. No data on the exact number of users can be made available. According to the organisation’s HR management, however, all employees with a child who has a disability or incapacity derive benefit from these measures. Management also confirms that people caring for elderly dependents make use of the continual working day scheme, as well as parents of children with disabilities.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

During an interview, the HR manager expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that national legislation makes no reference to working carers, besides the parents of children with disabilities. Including other working carers in the legislation, namely the large number caring for elderly relatives, would pave the way for improvements in the quality of working life for many workers. The challenges faced by this growing group of employees are well-known. The issue needs to be placed on the agenda of both national policy-maker and decision-makers within companies and public sector organisations.

Although there are no formal procedures to evaluate the impacts of the initiatives discussed above, indirect assessment has identified positive results. Consequently, Casa Pia wishes to not only continue providing them, it also hopes to increase take-up. It aims to do this by making use of additional channels of communication to raise awareness among, in particular, new recruits. In the future, Casa Pia also plans to share ideas and practices with other institutions that have similar characteristics.

The statutory provisions in the Portuguese Labour Code that allow for part-time and flexible work for workers with care responsibilities have proven to be adequate in meeting the needs of many of the employees concerned. However, the practical application of these rights, particularly that of part-time working, is still underdeveloped in the country.


Case study author:

  • Dr Margarida Barroso, Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-IUL), Lisboa

Interviewees (conducted on 17 November 2010, 03 February 2011 and 04 February 2011):

  • Gabriela Corvo, HR officer, Serviços Centrais, Casa Pia Lisboa.
  • Helena Sabino, Social Worker, Colégio D. Maria Pia, Casa Pia Lisboa

Online sources:

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