Labour as an Instrumental Freedom. The Case of ‘Work Care’ in Flanders

Motmans, Jos (2009). "Labour as an Instrumental Freedom. The Case of ‘Work Care’ in Flanders" Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the HDCA, 10-12 September 2009, Lima, Peru.

In this article we explore the meaning and importance of Sen’s concept ‘instrumental freedom’ in the case of ‘work care’ in Flanders (the Northern Dutch speaking part of Belgium). Work care is a rather literal translation of the specific Flemish and difficult to translate topic ‘arbeidszorg’. Work care is about work and occupational opportunities for people who in fact have no ‘real’ access to the normal labour market due to different reasons. Using ‘Supported employment’, a better known concept as a translation would be misleading since in work care workers do not have a labour contract. Furthermore work care is more than voluntary work due to the fact that the government supports specific and necessary guidance and coaching of the workers in work care programs. A case study of seven work care projects was at the core of this research project. We only used qualitative research methods. In each case (work care project) we had an in-depth interview with a coordinator, a coach and a worker. Interview data were analysed by using Sen’s five instrumental freedoms. In fact we used six instrumental freedoms, based on Anantha Duriappah (2004) and Jurgen Volkert (2007). We added ‘ecological security’ as the 6th, which seems to be a relevant option based on our analyses. Most literature on work care emphasizes the importance of participating in work care project because it enforces the latent functions of labour (Jahoda). In the different cases, we illustrate that work care clearly has social functions besides its personal importance. Projects in work care can make a huge difference for their workers between being included in society or being excluded and/or being subjected to (even extreme) poverty. When several instrumental freedoms (in their mutual coherence), are implemented in work care projects on the work floor, on guidance as on the organisational level, they clearly fulfil functions of social integration. Based on these findings we advised the Flemish government not to approach work care as a simple instrument of activation in the labour market. When work care is evaluated only in terms of (social) economic value – as is usually done nowadays in neo liberal economic policy – it is reduced to a labour market instrument. Such a reduction prohibits work care to play its potential and strongly inclusive role.
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