European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Health & Safety - working conditions

18 November 2016

Working conditions in Europe: mounting inequalities

The gap between workers high up on the career ladder and those on the bottom rung is widening. This is one of the main conclusions that can be drawn from the presentation of the overview report of the sixth European Working Conditions Survey, which took place on 17 November at the European Parliament.

"It shows an increasingly skilled workforce, largely satisfied with work, enjoying improved working time arrangements and greater equality between women and men. But beneath the surface is a diverse and heterogeneous labour market, where one in five workers has a poor quality job," stated a press release of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), which is in charge of coordinating the survey. It also pointed out that "one third of workers report some or great difficulty in making ends meet".

Participants in the survey were divided into five categories according to a "job quality index" which took into consideration their earnings, physical environment, work intensity, working time, social environment, learning and training opportunities and prospects for career advancement. Workers classified in the "poor quality" job category perform badly in every one of the above mentioned areas. A fifth (19%) of the European workforce is concerned. They all have low salaries, about one-third fear they will lose their job within six months, 45% do not believe their job offers good prospects, half of them have either fixed-term contracts, temporary agency contracts or no contract at all, and 83% have not received training.

It is worth noting that one-quarter of younger workers hold these kinds of jobs, and that women are more represented in this category than men.

The European workers movement reacted strongly to this new evidence of worsening inequalities among the European workforce and of the widening gap in well-being between the wealthiest and the poorest members of the population.

“European workers are struggling to make ends meet. Work no longer assures a decent life. Is it any wonder that more and more voters are losing their faith in the European Union and mainstream political parties?” commented Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

“These results only strengthen the ETUC’s determination to fight for more public investment to create quality jobs, and for a pay rise for European workers to tackle poverty and drive economic recovery for all. Economic policies that result in 1 in 3 workers struggling to make ends meet are fundamentally wrong and must be radically changed,” he added.

He also announced that the ETUC, with the support of the ETUI, will shortly organise activities to present in greater detail the main outcomes of this survey.

The sixth European Working Conditions Survey covers 35 European countries, which include the EU28, EU candidate countries, Norway and Switzerland. In total, 43,850 workers, both employees and self-employed, were interviewed.

Further reading:

Eurofound: 6th European Working Conditions Survey. Overview report, 17 November 2016

ETUC: More than 1 in 3 workers have difficulty making ends meet, 17 November 2016

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