A German scheme introduced in 2012 allows employees to take ‘family caring time’ and reduce their wages temporarily. Dalia Ben-Galim, associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), explains the benefits.
It could be cancer treatment, the onset of dementia, or a sudden fall that requires you to change your working pattern to care for a relative. Whilst the reasons for women caring vary greatly, the high cost of social care means that more and more women are playing the role of carer for their family members. IPPR’s latest work on ‘the sandwich generation’ highlights the challenges that many of these women face as they juggle work with caring for children, grandchildren and elderly parents.
For some women, ‘flexibility’ would simply require a degree of discretion from their employer on the odd occasion when they need to provide ad hoc care for a family member. For other women, it would require a temporary change in their employment conditions to support someone through illness or a change in circumstances. For others, more permanent flexibility would provide the opportunity to remain in work as well as continuing to care. The promotion of more flexible work could also tackle gender pay gaps and inequalities by offering men more opportunities to work flexibly and meet caring responsibilities.
Family caring scheme
Introduced in 2012 – Familienpflegezeit (‘family caring time’) is a scheme in Germany, where eligible employees can reduce their working time to a minimum of 15 hours for up to two years if they need to care for a dependent. Employees are eligible either through a collective agreement or an individual contract. During this time, employees are paid a lower income, though the reduction in income is less than the reduction in hours; pension contributions also continue to be accrued. When they return to full-time work, employees continue to receive reduced earnings in order to pay back the difference.
In practice, this means that if an employee reduces their hours from full-time to part-time for two years, then they will receive 75 per cent of their income over a four-year period. This insurance-type scheme protects employees against fluctuations in their income, and gives assurance and stability to employers. Central to this scheme is the reduction in hours for a fixed period of time along with the smoothing out of income. Job security and flexibility are built-in for both employer and employee.
Radical thinking needed
It could be that employers offer ‘family caring time’ policies to retain their staff and support them through periods of intense caring. Employers could define their own eligibility criteria in consultation with staff, through trade unions, professional associations or other staff representatives. Many employers would be able to absorb a temporary change in hours, particularly if this meant that the employee could remain in work. The scheme could be initially offered for a shorter period of time (3–6 months for example) to test it out. There would be no immediate cost implications, but there could be potential benefits to both employers and employees.
For example, if someone’s father was due to have a hip replacement, they could reduce their working hours over a three-month period to support their father through recovery and rehabilitation. They would reduce their income over a six-month period. The employee would know that their job was secure, while gaining the flexibility required to look after their father; the employer would have the security of knowing that the employee would return to their normal hours after this period of intensive care.
This income smoothing scheme is the kind of radical thinking that is required by employers, who otherwise face losing a wealth of knowledge and experience when older women are unable to continue working due to care responsibilities.
Follow Dalia Ben-Galim on twitter: @dalia_bengalim
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