Financial institutions squeeze family entitlements
by Peter Mac Within recent weeks considerable publicity has been given to those who maintain that special entitlements for employees with families are discriminatory. Such entitlements, won by years of hard struggle by workers and their unions, recognise the particular difficulties of working parents, and the importance for society of ensuring their return to the workforce and providing for the next generation of working people. The existence of these entitlements by no means cancels out the entirely legitimate claims of people with similar burdens, such as those who care for aged parents, and who should also receive support from society. Charges that family support is discriminatory will be welcomed by employers who have a myopic view of their social responsibilities, and especially by those employers who bear particular responsibilities (often imposed on them) for providing adequate family care arrangements for their employees. One such area of employment is the financial sector. Last week a report by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's Centre for Applied Social Research found that parents employed by financial institutions such as the banks and insurance companies did not in practice enjoy the relatively benign employment conditions which those institutions claimed. On the contrary, it found that employees of financial institutions, including parents, were almost invariably compelled to work long hours, and that unpaid overtime and work-related stress are commonplace. The report, entitled Pressure From All Sides — Life and Work in the Finance Sector surveyed more than 1800 employees in the banking industry. It found that staff of these institutions felt unable to access basic entitlements, and felt compelled to remain at work beyond the end of their shift without extra pay. Such employees also felt unable to reject demands that they work overtime and to make use of rostered days off. With regard to "family friendly" work arrangements, much publicised by the banks, the report notes that: "... arrangements may exist as nominal entitlements, but the actual practice in terms of day-to-day routine is much more problematic". National Secretary of the Finance Sector Union, Tony Beck, said that reductions in staffing levels were responsible for employees' inability to balance work and family life. He noted that: "It's outrageous that finance employers continue to win awards for being at the forefront of flexible arrangements for working parents, when in reality employees often aren't told about their rights and are unable to access them."