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18 September 2017

Workers in arduous and hazardous jobs see pension rights threatened

WAHJ lunch debate

The latest ETUI-OSE lunch debate focused on retirement regimes for workers in arduous and hazardous jobs (WAHJ). The discussion drew on a recent European Social Policy Network study drafted by Bart Vanhercke, Slavina Spasova and David Natali from the European Social Observatory (OSE). The debate was chaired by the Director of the ETUI Research department Maria Jepsen.

The study, based on a comparative analysis of social policies in 35 European countries focuses on private sector workers. The majority of the countries formally recognise the specific issues surrounding arduous and hazardous work and enshrine these in national legislation. Largely, arduousness and hazardousness of work is described through a list of strenuous physical or mental work conditions and/or jobs and occupations. However, seven of the thirty-five countries studied have no such recognition.

The research found that in 2015-16 WAJH represents between 1-4 per cent of Europe’s workforce and 5-8 per cent of Europe’s pensioners. In the last decade, there has been a decline in the number of WAHJ and WAHJ pensioners, due to a reduction in the list of conditions and jobs categorised under WAHJ, a tightening of special schemes’ eligibility conditions, plus a noticeable phasing out of these special schemes.

With regard to countries’ end of WAHJ career policies, there are two main approaches. The “holistic” approach integrates social benefits with active labour market policies and rehabilitation policies to support longer working lives. On the other hand, the “narrow” approach seeks to prolong working life mainly through tightening eligibility conditions and phasing out rules and schemes.

Panellist Celien Vanmoerkerke of the ABVV-FGTB told attendees that the current trend towards reducing bonuses and time credits for those involved in WAHJ, undermines attempts to constructively tackle issues in this area. She noted an increase in invalidity claims and a rise in the number of applications for early retirement for those Belgians working in arduous and hazardous sectors. Marie-Noëlle Vanderhoven, from the Belgian employers’ organisation VBO-FEB did not share this view. According to her the trade unions were putting forward an extremely long list of criteria which would undeniably lead to an unjustified multiplication of WAHJ.  

Valdis Zagorskis from DG Employment talked of the need to adopt a broader policy context to the challenges of WAHJ. He noted that it was unrealistic to expect those working in WAHJ to work for longer, even though overall pension ages were rising in the EU. Structures need to be put in place to help workers better transition from employment to retirement, through creating a host of different retirement pathways. Zagorskis believes this can be best achieved by creatively combining labour market policies, re-training opportunities and pension options, for those approaching retirement age in arduous and hazardous jobs.

Read more:

- European Social Policy Network (ESPN) Thematic Report on Retirement regimes for workers in arduous or hazardous jobs (2016)

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