Sexist Haddington Road Agreement undermines work-sharing – Niall Crowley
The journey from “Croke Park” to “Haddington Road” has been bumpy for public-sector management or public-sector unions. Pay and working hours have been the main focus. Issues of gender equality have not received much attention.
This is shameful given that the public sector is a major employer of women. In 2010 the education and health sectors employed 35% of all women employees in Ireland. 81.9% of those working in the health sector and 73.3% of those working in the education sector, were women.
The public sector is dramatically gender unequal. 77.4% of clerical officers in the civil service were women in 2010, whereas only some 16% of those at the level of Secretary General and Assistant Secretary were women. Only 10% of women Assistant Secretaries are married. Women in the health sector accounted for 91.9% of nurses, but only 35.7% of consultants.
77.4% of clerical officers in the civil service were women in 2010 whereas only some 16% of those at Secretary General and Assistant Secretary level were women
One factor that makes the public sector attractive to women is the extensive availability of working arrangements that enable employees to balance work and family responsibilities. EU data highlight the importance of this. The labour-market participation of mothers is 12.1 percentage points lower than for women without children. The reverse is true for men. The labour-market participation of fathers is 8.7 percentage points higher than for men without children.
Irish research in 2008 highlighted that women spend substantially more time on caring and household work than men. Women are more likely to work fewer hours per week in paid employment than men. Women represented 75.3% of those working less than 29 hours a week in paid employment in 2011. Flexible working arrangements are key to women remaining in the labour market.
The rejected Croke Park Two proposals included provisions that undermined work-sharing and flexible working arrangements in the public sector. The INMO commissioned a gender impact assessment of the draft proposals by this author. It found that the proposals would disproportionately and negatively impact on women and would tend to push women with caring responsibilities to leave employment.
The ‘Haddington Road Agreement’ also includes sections on “Work-sharing” and “Flexible Working Arrangements (Flexitime)”. It is hard to understand why these feature so prominently, and unhelpfully, in an agreement committed to “pay and productivity measures”. National and international research has found that productivity is enhanced by the use of flexible working arrangements.
Male dominated management would appear to disagree. The Agreement states that work-sharing has created “a significant management challenge and overhead”. Research, however, points to the need for such arrangements to be managed differently from traditional working patterns. A focus on trust over control, and on outcomes rather than inputs is required. It is not inconceivable that issues of limited management capacity are at play in the perspective on flexible working evident in the Agreement.
The Agreement does not provide much detail but it appears to presage a diminution in work-sharing and in flexible working arrangements. There is repetitive reference to management’s “discretion to alter or change an individual’s work-sharing arrangements”. The only criteria identified are the business needs of the organisation. There is no reference to any reasonable accommodation of those with caring responsibilities. Individual work-sharing arrangements are to be formally reviewed annually.
The Agreement states that “it is now necessary to update the [flexible working arrangements] to better reflect the current needs of organisations” and that such arrangements are only possible “so long as they support and enhance the efficient operation of Departments/Offices”. The core time-bands may be amended and staff at Assistant Principal level and equivalent will not be able to avail of the arrangements unless they already do so.
Several unions have secured some protection for their members. The “current work sharing arrangements as set out in various Departmental Circulars will continue to apply” to IMPACT grades in the local authority sector. “Management do not propose to review” flexibility in attendance arrangements for nursing and midwifery personnel in the health sector.
These exceptions are a positive indicator of concern for gender equality. What remains unexplained is the apparent hostility of management to gender equality. The need for gender impact assessments of all such Agreements is
Niall Crowley is a former CEO of the Equality Authority who works as a consultant about equality.