Case Study: Care-related supports – Gebalis, Portugal
Company / organisation name
Financial support to employees with children with disabilities
About the company / organisation
Gebalis is a public company of the municipality of Lisbon, responsible for local provision of social housing. The objective of Gebalis is to manage social housing in ways that assure quality of life and social integration of local communities. The company employs 232 persons (six of whom are employed under a protocol with the National Institute for Employment and Social Inclusion). A significant proportion of the workforce is composed of social work professionals, but the organisation also employs workers from the local communities, mainly for maintenance work.
In the context of the company’s policy of social responsibility, Gebalis has been developing a variety of actions to promote the social inclusion of vulnerable groups in society. This has involved cooperating with NGOs, local associations and other organisations, and companies, with the objective of combating discrimination and social exclusion. Internally, the company’s social responsibility policy encompasses a group of measures to promote its employees’ quality of life and the reconciliation between the different spheres of their lives.
Concern over the quality of life of people with disabilities was always present in the activity of the company. Several initiatives have been developed with this in mind. These include the encouragement of labour market participation of people with a disability and their integration in the company’s staff through formal agreements with educational institutions.
Since 2008, Gebalis has expanded the scope of its initiatives relating to social inclusion and work–life integration: they have created a company measure that targets employees whose children have any kind of disability or incapacity. The measure consists of providing a monthly subsidy of €100 to each employee in this group. This is provided independently of job position, contractual situation or department. It is also independent of the type of disability, degree of incapacity, and age of the son or daughter. The objective of this financial support is to compensate for the additional educational and health expenses that these workers face, and to encourage the main care-givers to remain in paid work.
The measure is formalised in Gebalis’ policy of social responsibility and the HR department is responsible for its implementation.
Information on how to apply for this support is provided within the internal regulations of the company. It is also made available via brochures that are easily accessed by staff. Any employee who has a child with a disability is eligible.
Gebalis has also implemented other measures that are of relevance to informal carers for children with disabilities, as well as those caring for elderly dependents. These measures are available to all staff. For example, employees have the right to 10 hours of special leave per year without need of justification, and to one day of leave after or before any national holiday. Moreover, the company pays 80% of employees’ monthly contributions to private health insurance of employees; this is also extended to family members who wish to avail of this.
There are two working hour models available in the company. Depending on their functions and existing constraints resulting from the nature of their position, workers can opt to use flexi-time. This involves core hours plus ‘gliding time’ in the early morning and later afternoon. Workers can also choose fixed working hours. In addition, Gebalis grants working carers the possibility of part-time employment or a flexible working schedule, in accordance with what is already defined in the Labour Code.
Rationale and background of the initiative
In recent years, concerns regarding the quality of life of both people with disabilities and the family carers who look after them have attracted increasing interest in Portugal. Promoting quality of life for these target groups has become a political objective, which has found its way into a number of official policy documents. The state has concentrated its efforts on improving the quantity and quality of the national infrastructure for social care provision. This is seen as a way of alleviating the burden on family carers and of assisting them by offering state-provided support services.
In spite of these recent developments, state support for families with children with disabilities or adults depending on care is still considered insufficient. These families are still burdened with extra medical and educational expenses, which add to their difficulties in combining care responsibilities and employment. Financial support provided by the state to carers of children or adults with disabilities are presently fixed at €82.58 per month. This does not cover all necessary expenses, such as extra-curricular activities or specific therapies not subsidised by the state or unavailable in the public care sector.
This was the background for Gebalis’ initiative. It began at an informal meeting with a employee whose a child has a disability. This employee mentioned the costs of educational extra-curricular activities that he had to sustain, to allow his child to fully participate in society. The company has always been concerned with staff motivation and has a policy of social responsibility. In this context, its HR department recognised that this situation called for intervention from the company. Financial support appeared to be the most appropriate means of addressing this need. The agreed amount to be offered was based on the identified needs of the target group and the financial situation of the company.
Although the works council was not directly involved in the implementation of the initiative, it was supportive from the start.
The annual concession of 10 working hours of leave resulted from the recognition that working carers often need to be absent from work to meet their care responsibilities. This measure, however, is open to all employees, in recognition of the fact that all of them may need to use it for personal or family reasons.
Results and assessment
No formal methodology is in place to assess whether the initiative has produced the expected outcomes. However, the company set up a framework for discussion and participation, which includes two annual meetings between HR management, employees and the works council. In addition, a meeting is held every second month between HR management and the works council. Both the results of these meetings and direct feedback from employees concerned confirm the value of this financial support for employees. It has proven to be of critical importance for covering educational and healthcare expenses. It also appears that the initiative is well appreciated among staff in general, as it demonstrates a high level of concern and interest from the company regarding the well-being of its employees.
Only two employees have requested this support since the initiative started; this is because it is only available to those who have a child with a disability.
The use of the 10 annual hours of leave is available to all staff. Feedback from employees suggests it also has a very positive effect on work motivation.
Gebalis is a member of various networks of companies, which it uses to collaborate with different types of organisations, to exchange experience and to disseminate best practice.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
In spite of the context of uncertainty created by the economic downturn in Portugal, Gebalis aims to continue this support of staff whose children have disabilities. This measure was included in the company’s internal regulations, as one way of assuring its continuity in the future. This also means that workers concerned now have a right to this support, as outlined above.
In the medium term, the company aims to increase the amount of financial support provided for each case. The possibility of increased flexible working hours is also on the agenda for the near future; negotiations with the works council have already begun on the issue.
The need for company measures that provide financial support to working carers highlights the insufficiency of support provided by the state in Portugal. This is in spite of the recent attempts to make progress in this respect. There are evident problems regarding access to and the cost of extra-curricular activities, which are of particular importance for the social inclusion of children with disabilities. These problems need to be addressed by policy. On the other hand, the statutory provisions defined in the Portuguese Labour Code give workers with care responsibilities the right to part-time and flexible working arrangements; this relates to those caring for children, for children with disabilities, or for a dependent adult living in the same household. In cases where employees are given proper access to these provisions, they appear to be adequate to the needs of many working carers. Nonetheless, take-up of flexible work, especially with respect to part-time work, is still very low.
Case study author:
- Dr Margarida Barroso, Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-IUL), Lisboa
- Sérgio Lopes Cintra, HR Manager, Gebalis EEM
- Anabela Teixeira, Administrative Clerk, Gebalis EEM.
- Website of Gebalis [accessed at: www.gebalis.pt]
- Código de Ética (Ethics Code), December 2008, http://www.gebalis.pt/site/downloads/codigo_etica.pdf
- Estatutos da Gebalis (Legal structure of the company), January 2009, http://www.gebalis.pt/site/downloads/estatutos.pdf
Written material not available online:
- Manual de políticas e práticas de responsabilidade corporativa AXA, 2010 (Description of the corporate social responsibility policy)
- Relatorio de responsabilidade corporativa, 2009 (Annual report of corporate social responsibility)