The organisation, which employs 12,000 people and is the largest of its sort in Flanders, hopes the contract will attract more applicants for the 200 or so job vacancies it has but has been unable to fill. While the contract, which will be used from September, is intended for Familiehulp’s own use, it has sparked interest in other quarters.
“People want more account taken of their private situation,” said Agnes Bode of Familiehulp. “This is a new sort of contract – an experiment. We will see what the reaction is, and the impact on the organisation of work. If our evaluation is positive, we will extend its use within the organisation.”
As well as the week-on, week-off contract, Familiehulp will also offer two variants, one where working hours are arranged to suit school hours and one that covers school holiday arrangements.
Unizo, the organisation that represents small businesses, welcomed the introduction of the new contract, but pointed out that it only applies to part-time workers. Such arrangements are often agreed informally in small businesses, but the organisation said it was in favour of increased flexibility across the board – as long as it was of mutual benefit. “If a boss is flexible enough to let you work less when you have the children, you need also to be ready to work longer when you don’t have them,” the group said. “Flexibility is good for both sides.”
However, at present, employment contracts stand in the way. “Someone who wants to work 28 hours this week and 48 hours next week can’t always do that,” a spokesperson said. “Labour law in many sectors says there is a maximum of 38 hours a week.” Parents with family responsibilities would have more flexibility, Unizo argues, if working time were calculated on an annual rather than a weekly basis – a proposal that has already been made to the federal government, and is apparently still under consideration.