A GOVERNMENT think tank is recommending flexible work arrangements, including a four-day work week, in part to help couples better deal with their housework obligations.

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) said in a policy note published Wednesday that “a large percentage” of both men and women who are 25-59 years old consider housework to be a main reason for not seeking work, with more females, both single and married, giving this answer more than their male counterparts.

Citing a separate study, PIDS said around 82% of women reported having to interrupt work because of housework between 2003 and 2009, “adversely” impacting a woman’s position in the labor force.

“A clear understanding of the effects of care work and unpaid work on the interruptions in market work can help in strengthening programs for labor market re-entrants and in strengthening policies for work-family life balance,” it said.

It said valuing unpaid work does not necessarily require compensation which is considered a “fleeting solution” since market work or jobs outside the home are inevitable once children grow and housework needs levels off. Paying compensation for housework may also result in possible leakages, unintended consequences, and strains on public funds.

Instead, PIDS recommended policies to “accommodate the realities of unpaid work,” including the use of digital labor platforms to enable workers to carry out service jobs online.

“Meanwhile, training can be provided so that skills required for these opportunities are developed,” it said.

According to the study, “a four-day work week in the public sector is a good starting point” for the government to experiment with, as more legislation is needed to institutionalize flexible time (flexi-time) for companies.

Another option for the government is an incentive scheme for working couples with preschool children who fall under a determined income bracket.

“An example of an incentive scheme that can be explored is by making a portion of child care receipts (e.g., day-care services, payment of nanny wages) deductible from the income of couples in the lowest taxable income bracket or by providing subsidies to tax-exempt workers,” it said.

PIDS said the government should also improve child-care services operating within the eight-hour office period to encourage mothers to go back to work after giving birth, as well as a system for elderly care to address the ageing population.

“Fast and reliable mass transportation is also a key to reducing the burden of unpaid work while fast, cheap, and reliable Internet can help men and women work from home,” it added.

The study argued for valuing unpaid work since it has positive consequences, particularly as stay-home parents, particularly mothers, “play a big role in fostering a good learning environment especially during the children’s early years in life when all types of development take place.”

Housework or “unpaid work” includes caregiving for young and old people as well as cooking, washing and cleaning.

While some choose unpaid work at home as they find fulfillment in raising their children, PIDS said others, however, “do not have the luxury of choice.”

“Unpaid work for them is a life’s task assigned by gender roles so when push comes to shove, they opt out of the labor market. The society then misses out on their contribution and this is a compelling reason for recognizing the value of unpaid work.” — Beatrice M. Laforga