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Labor Market Flexibility: a Comparative Anthology.

Labor Market Flexibility: A Comparative

Anthology. Edited by Hedva

Sarfati and Catherine Kobrin.

Brookfield, VT, Gower, 1988.

355 pp. One of the services of the International Labour Office to practitioners and students of industrial relations is the quarterly, Social and Labour Bulletin. It is a useful, succinct, and reliable update on recent developments in labor matters throughout the world. In recent years, the editors of the Bulletin have added commentaries on some of the more important issues of the day. They have also published abstracts on collective bargaining developments and on the industrial relations aspects of technological change. Labor Market Flexibility, edited by Hedva Sarfati and Catherine Kobrin, is of this kind.

Lack of flexibility in the labor market has been put forward as a contributory factor in the failure of many of the advanced market economies to achieve satisfactory economic growth and lower unemployment. In the debate-which has been particularly active in European countries-attention has been drawn to, for example, the adequacy of wage flexibility and labor mobility, and laws regarding collectively agreed provisions and traditional work practices which, arguably, unduly restrict the operational efficiency of enterprises. In line with the new thinking about flexibility, steps have been taken in some European countries to facilitate more flexible working-time arrangements; to ease restrictions on dismissals; to reduce demarcation barriers between skills; and to extend irregular forms of employment.

This present compilation includes a comprehensive introductory review of the flexibility debate by the editors, followed by notes on various aspects by representatives of unions, employers, government, and academic circles, and selected reports of developments. Notes and reports were taken from various editions of the Bulletin beginning in 1984, and touched on the major elements of the debate. The editors conclude that there is indeed a general movement toward greater flexibility, although the extent and means of change vary between countries. They note that the originally simplistic positions commonly taken by the parties have given way to more sophisticated and less categorical views. They do not fail to point out some of the dangers involved in increasing flexibility, diminishing workers' protection, and increasing segmentation the labor market, for example. Finally, they see a joint approach and participation as being desirable in moves to more flexible utilization of labor.

Except for the introduction, this is not a book to read straight through. It is, rather, a store of information which will be useful to those who want to keep track of developments in other countries where flexibility is involved, to ascertain the different approaches followed, and the extent of change. For such purposes, and to form a judgment on the flexibility debate, it is a particularly valuable resource.

Oliver Clarke

Department of Industrial Relations

University of Western Australia


Balancing work and family responsibilities The newer family-supportive benefits are not just for protecting employees and their families from calamities, but from the stresses of everyday life-or the ability to balance work and family responsibilities. Employee surveys at major corporations document the stress and strains of this delicate balancing act. Workers with child care or elder care responsibilities are three to six times more likely to experience difficulty combining work and family responsibilities. Even if successful, other problems, such as finding and paying for child care, negatively affect work performance.

Parents usually piece together several child care arrangements to cover their needs. Yet, the more arrangements, the more likely they are to break down. Various studies show that when arrangements fall apart, parents either leave early or arrive late-or miss the day altogether. Even when a stable arrangement is achieved, emergencies and illnesses are inevitable. Most studies indicate that parents are absent about five days each year as a result of sick children. Elder care concerns lead to similar results. In a study at Wang Laboratories, one-third of caregivers said that elder care responsibilities negatively affected their work. Caregivers were absent about five days per year due to elder care.

-Dana E. Friedman and Wendy B. Gray

"A Life Cycle Approach to

Family Benefits and Policies,"

Perspectives, No. 19 (The Conference Board,

Inc., 1989), p. 5.
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Author:Clarke, Oliver
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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