The time-money squeeze: ILO study shows the difficulties of workers with family responsibilities

Article | 21 September 2004

GENEVA - For Evangelina Alvarez of Mexico, a long and difficult job search ultimately ended in frustration.

"They didn't hire me just because I had a son", says Alvarez, who failed to get work primarily because of her family responsibilities.

Her case is by no means an exception. According to a new booklet published by the ILO, workers with family responsibilities still face subtle but pervasive forms of discrimination that may prevent them from getting good jobs or even being hired at all.

"Across diverse geographical, social and economic settings, parents have fewer chances to get the jobs they need than adults without children", says Jody Heyman, author of "How are workers with family responsibilities faring in the workplace?" ( Note 1). The booklet was published by the Conditions of Work and Employment Programme of the International Labour Office (ILO) as a contribution to the 10th anniversary of the Year of the Family.

The booklet is based on a study that involved some 1,000 interviews in Botswana, Honduras, Mexico, Russia, the United States and Viet Nam to examine the difficulties of low-income people as they try to earn a decent living while coping with family responsibilities. The study shows that despite individual and regional differences there are "clear patterns in the experiences of working parents", even though they belong to various political and economic contexts and cultures.

For example, "women face discrimination when they are pregnant and when it is known that they are raising children", the author says, adding that "men also face discrimination when they are recognized as involved fathers".

At the same time the interviews show that the poor are more likely to lose pay, promotion or a job while meeting their care-giving responsibilities in the family because of their precarious working conditions. Adds Heyman, they are "most likely to enter into a vicious cycle of deepening and intergenerational poverty".

Although men can also be victims of discrimination, it typically affects women as they continue to carry the main load in family care. They not only have difficulties finding a job, but may also lose it more easily. Often, mothers interviewed for the study would take lower paid jobs, for example in the informal sector, in order to have more flexibility.

The fact that family responsibilities are a major source of discrimination in labour markets and the consequent lack of decent work conditions, and that both gender inequality and poverty are being exacerbated by work-family conflicts, has policy implications for governments. This becomes clear when international instruments that address the issue of working parents are to be translated into meaningful national legislation that can be effectively enforced.

"There is a need for governments and social partners to pay increasing attention to policies and measures to help reduce the work-family conflict", says François Eyraud, head of the ILO Conditions of Work and Employment Programme ( Note 2). "Recent trends in both the labour market and the family are making it increasingly difficult for families as they are caught in a time-money squeeze", he adds.

In 1981 government, worker and employer delegates to the International Labour Conference adopted the Convention on Workers with Family Responsibilities (No. 156) that addresses the work-family conflict. According to the Convention, "each member (State) shall make it an aim of national policy to enable persons with family responsibilities who are engaged or wish to engage in employment to exercise their right to do so without being subject to discrimination".

"The work-family conflict can only be solved if we make work and family responsibilities more compatible", says Mr. Eyraud. This requires measures bringing "a win-win situation for achieving both organizational effectiveness and employee well-being".

Note 1

Note 2 - ILO Conditions of Work and Employment Programme.