Case Study: Leave-related measures – Alliance Nationale des Mutualités Chrétiennes (MC), Belgium
Company / organisation name
Alliance Nationale des Mutualités Chrétiennes (MC)
Supporting care activities for dependent persons
About the company / organisation
The Christian Mutuality (MC) is a large non-profit organisation, with over 4,500 workers. Their central headquarters are in Brussels and their decentralised network of offices covers all regions of Belgium. A majority (65%) of the workforce are women.
The provision of compulsory health and disability insurance, as well as supplementary insurance services, make up the core activities of the Christian Mutuality. In addition, it has a long-established tradition as a welfare organisation based on Christian values. It is engaged in active social assistance, particularly those targeted at individuals at risk of exclusion. It is also an important player in health promotion and ongoing health education for young people as well as for adults. The Christian Mutuality’s charter lists the following main goals of the organisation: special attention to the vulnerable; equal access to high quality healthcare for all; and an open and public health policy.
The Christian Mutuality has developed two main initiatives to support working carers as well as employees who wish to support those who are dependent on help and assistance.
Under one initiative, employees are invited to engage in collective action. For this purpose, the company’s collective agreement stipulates that any employee has the right to take five days of paid leave year (called “citizenship leave”) in order to accompany a group of persons in need of care/assistance during selected leisure activities. Such events are organised by a partner organisation. For instance, employees are allowed to take days off as volunteers to assist dependent persons from ACIH-AAM, a social movement for people with a disability or chronic disease. This assistance would be provided at a holiday camp or other one-day activities, in collaboration with the employees of the association. The same process can occur with ‘Alteo’, another organisation for people facing challenges to their independence. At time of writing, negotiations were taking place to increase leave provision for this purpose, from five to ten days per year. The agreement is expected to be signed in 2011.
This measure evolved out of an initiative of the organisation’s management, who wished to draw more attention to the care issue in general. Day-to-day management is the responsibility of the company’s HR department.
The second initiative facilitates employees to become active on an individual basis. Here, the company’s collective agreement stipulates that workers between 52 and 60 years old are entitled to extra paid leave in order to help improve their work-life balance. This leave can range from one and a half days to seven days per month and is determined by the age of the employee and their position within the company. This initiative has been launched with the aim of to supporting employees who are engaged in care-giving to a dependent elderly person, either a parent or a spouse. The measure can also be used to enable employees to spend more time with their grandchildren or other family members. This leave can be taken in addition to the regular time-credit system. This measure has its origins in the company’s goal of enabling older workers to stay in employment for at least 80% of a full-time position. The aim here is to keep rates of early retirement low, as well as to limit the proportion of employees who radically reduce their working hours in older age.
In addition to these two specific company initiatives, the Christian Mutuality encourages employees to make full use their statutory rights regarding informal care activities, as defined by existing legislation. Moreover, pragmatic solutions are sought to meet the individual needs of employees with care responsibilities. However, unlike the initiatives above, such individual-based measures are not underpinned by any formal organisational agreement. They operate on a more informal and discretionary basis and no eligibility criteria have been defined. This means that, in practice, decisions related to measures for individual working carers are made on a case-by-case basis, following consultation with line managers.
In practice, the company shows much understanding of the difficulties involved in reconciling work and informal care. In doing so, it provides a greater level of flexibility than stipulated by legislation.
Rationale and background of the initiative
As a Christian mutual insurance company, Christian Mutuality’s main mission is to respond to evolving social challenges. For this reason it actively develops a corporate culture which emphasises citizens’ engagement and social participation in general. This may explain its willingness to support initiatives targeting dependent persons and people who are engaged in caring for them.
The first measure allows additional paid leave for all employees, and not only for working carers. This is provided with a view to supporting welfare organisations looking after children and adults facing challenges to their independence. It is an original initiative, especially when considered in the context of existing legislation on this issue. Rooted in a collective spirit, the measure strives to raise awareness within the company regarding the needs of dependent persons and their carers, as well as to actively address, at a collective level, the increasing challenges faced by this group.
The second formalised measure represents a broader approach towards enhancing and supporting a work–family balance for employees within the company, with a special focus on older workers. This step goes beyond the terms outlined in the statutory provisions defined by legislation on the time-credit system for workers aged 50 years and over.
Results and assessment
The Christian Mutuality does not undertake any formal assessment of the impacts of these measures
On an informal level, the HR department noted that take-up of the option of using working hours for engaging in welfare activities is lower than expected. The HR department therefore considers it a priority to increase awareness of the issue, especially among younger workers.
In contrast, the second initiative – extra paid leave for older workers – has proven a real success, with high rates of uptake. Available information suggests that the measure is considered an effective support, in particular by working carers who themselves belong to the group of older workers.
Most of all, both initiatives are to be seen in the context of the company’s general goal to promote long-term health and mental well-being, notably through strengthening the workforce’s social ties to the wider society. The thinking behind these initiatives fits well with the philosophy of the company itself.
These initiatives also aim to promote the image of the company among potential customers, by demonstrating the coherence of all the major goals and activities of the company.
Issues, challenges and lessons learned
In this case, and unlike initiatives from others companies in Belgium, measures to support workers with care responsibilities originated within the company management itself. A collective agreement was negotiated within the company, rather than provisions being adapted from those developed at supra-company level.
The first initiative outlined above an innovative measure, as no similar provision exists in current legislation related to this issue.
The second outlined initiative goes beyond legal obligations in terms of paid leave, as it offers extra paid leave for workers aged 50 years and over.
The experience made so far suggests that both initiatives could be adopted by other employers in Belgium.
Case study authors:
- Prof Gerard Valenduc, Fondation Travail, Université ASBL
- Périne Brotcorne, Foundation Travail-Université.
- Marie-Pierre De Bom, HR manager, Christian Mutuality