A NEW STUDY says that recession has had a very damaging effect on the Irish labour market – but that companies have not been cutting back on their equality policies.
The research was undertaken by Frances McGinnity and Helen Russell of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), and looks at equality policies and flexible working arrangements in Irish workplaces.
It looks at equality policies put in place in Irish businesses – polices which relate to gender, family status, age, nationality/ethnicity and disability.
The primary legislation in Ireland for workplace equality is the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equality Act 2004 and their associated amendments.
It is a statutory requirement that Irish employers comply with the equality provisions of the Acts.
The ESRI research examines how prevalent equality policies are, if they have any benefits for workers and the organisations they work for, and whether the recession has changed the situation.
It compares figures from 2009 to 2003 and uses the National Workplace Survey 2009 to address the issues.
In 2009, 84 per cent of employees worked in an organisation with a formal equality policy, compared to 75 per cent of employees in 2003.
The increase in coverage was particularly marked in the private sector, the research showed.
When it comes to equality policies, the research also showed:
- Employees who work in organisations with a formal equality policy are much more likely to consider that opportunities for recruitment, pay and promotion are fair in their organisation
- The presence of an equality policy is associated with lower levels of work pressure and work-life conflict
- Equality policies are associated with higher job satisfaction and higher employee commitment
- Employees who work in organisations with a formal equality policy are also more likely to report that the organisation has recently introduced new products or services
- The presence of an equality policy has no impact, either positive or negative on job quality
Flexible working arrangements were also looked at.
In 2009, 30 per cent of employees worked flexible hours, including flexitime, and 25 per cent worked part-time.
Twelve per cent regularly worked from home during normal working hours, and 9 per cent were job-sharing, representing a marked increase since 2003.
The research showed that flexible working arrangements have mixed effects, for example:
- Part-time work reduces work-life conflict and work pressure significantly
- However, part-time workers and job sharers tend to have lower earnings and lower autonomy compared to others with the same education and work experience
- Those who work from home during normal working hours have higher work-life conflict and work pressure, though they also have higher job autonomy and earnings
This means that not all flexible working arrangements promote work-life balance, and those that do may be associated with trade-offs in terms of rewards and autonomy, said the researchers.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Frances McGinnity concluded that:
While the recession has created many challenges for employers in Ireland, we find no evidence in the period up to the end of 2009 that employers have responded by reducing formal equality policies, or limiting the availability of flexible working options. This is likely to be good for employees, given their generally positive link to employee well-being, and for the organisations for which they work.
Renee Dempsey, CEO of the Equality Authority, said:
The positive outcomes for enterprises identified in the 2003 survey have been confirmed in 2009 – despite the very different situation in the Irish economy and labour market. Companies that capture these benefits through proactive equality and diversity strategies are strengthening their prospects for recovery and future growth.