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Political Science in Europe

Unveiling the Gendered Politics of Working Time – Polish Working Time Regimes, Po-litical Economic Transition and the Crisis in Social Reproduction

Europe (Central and Eastern)
European Union
Policy Analysis
Political Economy
Social Policy
Ania Zbyszewska
University of Warwick
Ania Zbyszewska
University of Warwick

This paper traces historic changes in the Polish working-time policy and regulation and locates them in the context of the country’s post-1989 political economic transition and its 2004 accession to the European Union (EU). Theoretically, the paper builds on a feminist critique of standard working-time norms, in general, and their institutionalization in Poland, in particular, with the concept of social reproduction providing the key point of departure. Empirically, the paper analyses the regulatory changes in Polish working-time regulation after 1989 and demonstrates that with the high incidence of long hours of work among all Polish workers, continually traditional gender roles in relation to unpaid work of social reproduction, and the dismantling of many institutional supports to the latter, the Polish working-time regime has since transition become increasingly unequal and unsustainable. Similarly, an analysis of the political discourse within which these changes have taken place demonstrates dominance of economic efficiency and flexibility rationales and a near complete absence of engagement with gender equality objectives, albeit with increasing reference to policies directed at the reconciliation of work and family obligations. The latter, largely prompted by obligations flowing from EU policy and directives, but also consistent with the Natalist family policy of the Polish state, continue nonetheless to be largely directed at women workers, thereby reinforcing traditional gender roles. As such, these changes in the working-time regime are unlikely to provide sufficient and more equal solutions to the already precarious position of many Polish working caregivers, particularly women. They are also a far cry from developing a more socially sustainable and family friendly working-time regime, and indeed may be contributing to a crisis in social reproduction.
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