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Working under pressure

Maarten Keune, Nuria Elena Ramos Martín and Mikkel Mailand Employment, job quality and labour relations in Europe’s public sector since the crisis

Publication date : 2020

Number of pages : 363

Edited by :

Maarten Keune, Nuria Elena Ramos Martín and Mikkel Mailand

For many years, in most European countries, the public sector has been under pressure to reduce expenditure and increase efficiency. Long-term pressures on the public sector, and especially the recent austerity drives following from the crisis, have led to reforms and cuts in public budgets with serious negative effects on the European Social Model, on the quality of public services and on social outcomes, including health and inequality.

This book analyses the evolution of employment, job quality and labour relations in the public sector since the 2008 crisis in nine EU Member States: Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Czech Republic, and the UK. It focuses on three sub-sectors: primary education, health care and municipalities. The authors show that the public sector reforms of the past few decades, as well as the more recent crisis-related austerity policies, have had important consequences for the number and quality of jobs across the nine countries. Public sector workers have frequently had to shoulder the burden of budgetary pressures through declining employment levels and job quality, including stagnating or declining (real) wages and the intensification and ‘extensification’ of work. Declines in the number of jobs and job quality have been strongest in the countries where the crisis has been felt the deepest, in particular Italy and Spain. However, in the last few years, there is a moderate recovery in employment and/or job quality, particularly in healthcare and primary education.

The authors have identified several broad trends in public sector labour relations. One is the turn of governments towards greater unilateralism in the initial crisis years. The second is the emergence of new industrial relations actors. Following the dissatisfaction of public sector workers and the limited success of the established trade unions to respond to this dissatisfaction, a variety of new unions, social movements, ad hoc pressure groups and other organisations have emerged. Thirdly, there has been a widespread increase in strikes, protests, campaigns and other forms of industrial action by public sector workers. Finally, the erosion of the quality of public services has become a central issue in the demands of trade unions and new social actors. They now consistently argue that good job quality for public sector employees is essential to guaranteeing and enhancing the quality of public services.

ETUI, Brussels, ISBN 978-2-87452-561-2, ISBN 978-2-87452-562-9 (pdf)

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