European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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30 November 2012

Basic services sectors: more jobs yes, but better?


Creating more and at the same time better jobs is one of the key objectives of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy. The European research project WALQING investigated quality of work in five growing but socially risk-prone service sectors and presented its conclusions and recommendation at the ETUI’s November Monthly Forum on 26 November.

The five sectors under scrutiny were: construction, waste collection, cleaning, mobile elderly care and contract catering. In all these sectors the number of jobs has been expanding but lots of questions have been raised about problematic working conditions, precarious employment, low wages and/or lack of social integration.

All these sectors address basic needs: clean shelter, food, care and all are labour-intensive, require mobility, are confronted with cost pressures and shaped by issues of sustainability and quality of life. For all of them the logic of the market and competition exerts downward pressure on the job quality for workers.

Three researchers involved in the WALQING project presented the results of their work at the ETUI Monthly Forum of 26 November. They all underlined how certain mechanisms, rules and processes (“anchors for job quality”) that shape the ways how product markets, labour markets and the welfare system work in a given country impacts on job quality.

The three main messages coming out of the WALQING project are the following:

  • There is a need for socially responsible public procurement rules (including e.g. minimum social standards) in those areas where public authorities buy services from these sectors.
  • Collective bargaining is crucial but needs backing by public policy. There needs to be a policy debate on statutory extension mechanisms and statutory minimum wages for these sectors.
  • As these sectors are most affected by cuts of changes in welfare state institutions, there is a need to look at issues such as increasing physical and mental strain of workers, the implications of extending the pension age on these sectors and the need for a decent income at retirement age for its workers.

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