The Guardian July 19, 2000


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."

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