At the informal meeting of the Employment and Social Policy Ministers, which was held in Galway on 16 January 2004, the Ministers concluded that, policies to reconcile work and family life are vital elements of the overall package of measures to increase participation in the labour market.
Under the EU employment strategy, the attainment of an employment rate of 67% by 2005 and 70% by 2010 has been agreed. Separate targets have been agreed in respect of women's employment, 57% by 2005 and 60% by 2010. As part of the EU employment guidelines, Ireland is committed to the provision of equal opportunities between women and men, including the provision of family friendly working arrangements.
Considerable work has already been done in the pursuit of these commitments, particularly since the establishment of the national framework committee for work-life balance policies, formerly known as the national framework committee for family friendly policies. The establishment of this committee highlights the commitment of the Government and the social partners to the area of family friendly working arrangements. The work of the committee has been acknowledged by the European Commission as having a positive contribution to the implementation of the employment guidelines.
The national framework committee comprises representatives from the IBEC, ICTU, Departments and the Equality Authority and is chaired by my Department. Its remit is to support and facilitate the development of family friendly policies at the level of the enterprise and examine how best to improve access to such policies in order to realise the potential benefits that these arrangements would offer from both an equality and competitiveness perspective.
A number of initiatives have been undertaken by the committee to date, including: the organisation and hosting of family friendly workplace days; the provision of financial assistance to assist individual organisations in implementing and/or enhancing work-life balance working arrangements; the establishment and funding of a panel of consultants, who are available to assist in developing or implementing work-life balance arrangements; the provision of financial assistance to the social partners to assist in the development of appropriate resources for their members; and the development of an interactive website www.familyfriendly.ie and other information exchange-dissemination activities including newsletters, information leaflets and seminars.
A number of very useful pilot projects and research projects have also been undertaken on behalf of the committee. For example, the committee commissioned and published a major research project, Off the Treadmill: Achieving Work/Life Balance, last year. The focus of this research was to examine issues relating to the types of family friendly working arrangements in Irish workplaces, attitudes to family friendly working arrangements among employers, employees and work colleagues and to identify barriers to the implementation of such arrangements.
The findings of the research report confirms the fact that demands for work/life balance opportunities are increasing among a broad range of people who are at work or who may be seeking work, not just people who are seeking to balance work and family responsibilities. The increasing demand for work/life balance options will require both employers and employees to be innovative in their thinking and actions in this area.
The research report will assist and inform the work of the national framework committee going forward.