The ‘full-time bonus’, which the government is currently investigating with extra ‘urgency’ to counteract the shortage in the labor market, is unlikely to have any effect on at least one important potential target group: Older mothers who now work part-time. This is the opinion of the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) in a study published on Wednesday on women’s labor market participation.
For this group of women, caring for their now somewhat older and more independent children is often (much) less intensive, so that they could, in theory, start working more. According to SCP, it would also be good for the emancipation of women, because it increases their financial independence and ultimately more women end up in leadership positions. Nowhere in the world do more women now work part-time than in the Netherlands.
But a bonus for full-time employment will not tempt women with older children and part-time jobs to work more hours, SCP surmises. Because “money is not the only incentive for most of them. Many other factors also come into play, such as the fact that the work must also be interesting in terms of content or that more hours can easily be agreed with the employer.” For its study, SCP surveyed 525 women with children aged 8 to 24.
Politics falls short
Rather than a bonus, the government would do better to work on a ‘broader package’ of policy measures, such as easing ‘day plans’ for school-age children, encouraging more ‘caring cultures’ in businesses and better careers guidance in life. . Current government policy is inadequate because it is primarily aimed at mothers of young children (eg leave schemes and childcare). If this political problem is solved, a large labor potential can be exploited. The group of mothers with older children makes up half of all part-time working women.
The Planning Office joins its comments to other critics of the full-time bonus. In June, the government published an ‘action plan’ against the acute staff shortage. One of the ideas is to give people a financial bonus if they go full time. During the political deliberations last week, the two largest coalition parties, VVD and D66, called on the government to speed up such a measure. Minister Van Gennip (Social Affairs and Employment, CDA) then announced that he would investigate the possibilities and feasibility of a bonus with extra ‘urgency’.
The plan has also previously been criticized. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights ruled last year (the idea of a full-time bonus has been on the table since the corona crisis, which caused major shortages in health care and education) that Dutch labor law in principle prohibits discrimination between employees. on a difference in working hours. An exception could only be made if there was a very good reason for this. But that was not the case”. And if the bonus was not paid to employees who are already working full-time (the vast majority of whom are men), it could be discriminatory.
The same criticism that SCP now sounded from the health sector. The industry association Actiz would rather see a structural wage increase for all staff, including part-time employees. A full-time bonus “would go mainly to doctors anyway, and they already make a lot more.”
Once part-time, always part-time
In its research, SCP calls for ‘a broad social debate’ about the way in which paid and unpaid work is organized today. The researchers noted that a large number of women start working part-time after the arrival of their children, and continue to do so even when the children are older or have even left the home altogether. Two out of three women never work as much after the arrival of their children as before they had children. The title of the study is therefore ‘Once part-time, always part-time‘.
According to SCP, this is the result of a ‘deeply ingrained part-time culture and structure’ in the Netherlands, where it is almost always women who start working less after the arrival of children. Employers, as well as women themselves and their partners, find this “natural”, writes SCP. “Subtly and less subtly, women are steered towards part-time jobs when they have children. If they haven’t already.”
According to SCP, different policies are needed to break through this, but also a major societal debate on ‘the question of how we want to organize work and care in the future’. “After all, we can’t take care of the children, and we work full-time, and do voluntary work and take on care tasks.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on 28 September 2022