Gendering the European working-time regimes: the universe of political discourse, working-time regulation, and gender equality in the wider European Union and in Poland




Zbyszewska, Ania

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This dissertation examines the discursive, political, and legal context of the European Union’s (EU) Working Time Directive, beginning with the history of its adoption and ending with its unsuccessful revision attempt in 2009. It also analyzes the Directive’s influence on the working-time regime in Poland, and considers whether or not it advances gender equality. A feminist, socio-legal perspective that is attentive to multiple levels of governance is used to analyze the Directive, the Polish Labour Code provisions, and their interaction. The dissertation illustrates how standard working-time norms both assumed and institutionalized an unequal allocation of paid and unpaid work between men and women, which either constrained women’s employment opportunities or, in Poland’s case, penalized women with a double burden of paid and unpaid work. It shows how a contextual analysis of the EU and Polish working-time instruments allows us to evaluate whether the norms they set embody and reproduce, or challenge and move beyond, these gendered assumptions. The focus is on changes in the political, economic, and social milieu, developments in policy discourses and institutional architecture, and the role of actors influencing the evolution of these instruments. Emphasis is given to Poland’s post-1989 transition and EU accession processes, the expansion of the EU competences, and the influence of broader transnational trends. The study reveals that the current regulatory approaches to standard work-time promoted in the EU and Poland are unlikely to facilitate equal re-distribution of work time between men and women because equality and work-family reconciliation have been either absent as potential regulatory rationales or subordinated to the dominant pursuit of labour market flexibility and efficiency. In the EU, this subordination stemmed from institutional, legal, and political constraints existing at the time of the Directive’s adoption and subsequent review. In Poland, domestic and external pressures also privileged economic discourses and the adoption of EU norms enabled progressive flexibilization of the Polish working-time regime, while preserving opportunities for long work-hours. Although recent policy emphasis on equality and the promotion of work-family reconciliation for all workers is promising, curbing long hours and better incorporation of care work are required for socially sustainable and equal working-time regimes.



gender, EC labour law, social reproduction, working-time regulation, Working Time Directive, Poland, transition, working-time regime, work-family reconciliation, flexibility, feminist theories of law