Coalition government proposes measures to promote equal opportunities

In their coalition agreement concluded in October 2009, the newly elected federal government of the Christian Democratic and Liberal Democtaric parties proposed several measures to foster equal opportunities and a better reconciliation of family and working life. However, as recent data released by the Institute of Employment Research show, the majority of establishments have not yet concluded agreements on promoting equal opportunities at the company level.

The coalition agreement between the alliance of the conservative Christian Democratic Party (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU), its Bavarian associate, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU), and the Liberal Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) lays down that greater efforts are to be made to enable women in particular to reconcile family and working life (DE0911039I). Not only family-friendly working time arrangements but also parental leave entitlements are to be further developed. The coalition partners also propose introducing a so-called ‘home childcare benefit’ (Betreuungsgeld) from 2013 onwards. This childcare benefit would be a monthly grant of €150 to parents who take care of their under three-year old infants at home. Furthermore, the coalition agreement calls for a greater number of women to be promoted to management positions in the private sector as well as in the public service.

IAB study on equal opportunities

While the federal government is currently considering many measures to promote equal opportunities, the latest research (in German, 760Kb PDF) of the Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung, IAB) shows that agreements to foster equal opportunities at the company level are still relatively rare in Germany.

Few agreements at company level

The analysis is based on data from the 2008 IAB establishment panel (IAB-Betriebspanel), which is regularly carried out by IAB and covers 16,000 establishments in all sectors of the economy. In 2008, IAB collected data on equal opportunities at the company level for the third time. Only 5% of companies employing more than 10 people mentioned the existence of a company-level agreement on promoting equal opportunities in that year. A further 6% of companies were bound by a collective agreement and 4% participated in a voluntary initiative.

Relevance of sector and company size

In 2001, the then left-wing federal coalition government and the employer and business associations concluded an agreement to foster equality between men and women in the private sector (DE0107231F). The IAB study thus probes subsequent developments in the private sector (DE0607029I).

Generally speaking, fewer establishments in the private sector were actively engaged in promoting equal opportunities, compared with all industries and sectors in 2008. The IAB study on the promotion of equal opportunities highlights, however, that such differences can be attributed to the smaller size of companies in the private sector. In this context, it should be noted that collective agreements to promote equal opportunities are more often found in larger companies – that is those employing 500 people or more. In addition to company size, the sector of activity also matters: for instance, most agreements or voluntary initiatives to promote equal opportunities were concluded by establishments in the financial intermediation and education sectors.

Individual voluntary measures

Not all measures to foster equal opportunities that exist at establishment level are regulated by the 2001 government-employer agreement or company-level collective agreements. Therefore, the IAB study also asked survey participants to name individual measures promoting equal opportunities or allowing for a better reconciliation of family and working life. The survey results show that the proportion of companies providing childcare rose from 2% to 6% between 2004 and 2008. Over the same period, programmes to support staff on parental leave increased from 11% to 21%, while the smallest rise, from 4% to 5%, occurred in the number of measures promoting female junior managers. In light of these findings, the researchers conclude that greater efforts are still required to achieve genuine equality of opportunities.

Position of social partners

In an information leaflet (in German, 210Kb PDF) issued in August 2009, the German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) stated that the labour market situation of women had continually improved over the past years. Nonetheless, BDA also highlighted that even more women could be promoted into management positions if they opted to study technical or scientific subjects. In these areas, skilled labour was particularly needed. Moreover, BDA referred to the fact that career opportunities for women were negatively influenced by the lack of childcare facilities, which should therefore be expanded in the future. Other measures, such as flexible working time arrangements and special programmes to ease the re-entry of parents returning to work after their parental leave, could promote equal opportunities at the company level.

In an open letter (in German, 110Kb PDF) issued on 2 December 2009, several lobby organisations and trade unions – including the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) and the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) – called on the federal government to rethink their proposal to introduce a so-called ‘home childcare benefit’ for infants under the age of three years from 2013 onwards. The signatories to the letter believe that such a measure would counteract the government’s goal of facilitating freedom of choice. Parents’ decisions on how they would like their children to be taken care of should be neither sanctioned nor rewarded in any way. Furthermore, the introduction of such a measure would send the wrong message to women, that is, to take longer breaks from work. It would also reinforce traditional gender roles and discourage the equal sharing of childcare tasks. Instead, the letter’s signatories advised the government to invest in high quality full-time childcare facilities for all children up to the age of six years.

Sandra Vogel, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)

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