Work and Life Quality in New and Growing Jobs
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Christine Wagner (Ms.)
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Grant agreement ID: 244597
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30 November 2012
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Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt
Europe needs more (and better) jobs
Grant agreement ID: 244597
1 December 2009
30 November 2012
€ 3 285 987
€ 2 699 546
Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt
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Final Report Summary - WALQING (Work and Life Quality in New and Growing Jobs)
The WALQING project has investigated the linkages between new and expanding jobs, the conditions of work and employment in these jobs, and the more or less favourable outcomes for employees' quality of work and life. First, WALQING identified growing sectors and functions (between the years 2000 and 2007) in Europe with problematic and precarious working conditions and low quality of work and life through an analysis of the datasets of the EU Labour Force Survey (ELFS), the European Working Conditions survey (EWCS), the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) and the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS). To do so, new indexes were developed and findings from the various datasets compiled. Based on these results and on previous research and theoretical knowledge, we selected sectors and functions within these sectors that combine expansion, problematic quality of work and life, and different gender composition. These sectors were commercial cleaning, construction, waste disposal, elderly care and catering. Each of these sectors was investigated in 4-5 countries that represent different employment regimes. In each country, partners investigated industrial relations in two sectors, conducted 2-3 company case studies in each of 'their' sectors and investigated the work situations, careers and perspectives of individuals and vulnerable groups. In addition, WALQING conducted 5 small-scale action research interventions to further dialogues and sector- or company-level initiatives to improve the quality of work in construction, cleaning and waste disposal.
WALQING found that ca. half of the job growth in Europe from 2000 to 2008 consisted of jobs with below-average job quality. Indeed, these 'new and growing' sectors in Europe have certain features in common: They address fairly basic needs of humans: clean shelter, food, care, waste disposal. For this reason, they both are shaped by issues of sustainability and quality of life and shape them for society. With the exception of construction, they are labour-intensive services 'on the ground', that is, spatially distributed and difficult to relocate. Clients, both institutions and private end-customers in many areas, contribute to the shaping of working conditions by negotiating contracts, making ad-hoc demands and exerting control. Public sector privatisation and outsourcing have contributed to the expansion of the sectors investigated. Cost pressure and quality considerations by both clients and employers thus have a central impact on working conditions. In recent years, the cost pressure was exacerbated in the context of the economic crisis. Both public and private sector organisations now set a strong focus on cutting costs, and this is reflected in adverse outcomes for employment conditions and quality of work, such as work intensification and a fragmentation of employment, through shorter-hour part-time contracts in the feminised sectors and the use of extended subcontracting in construction.
In spite of their contribution to quality of life, the sectors investigated by WALQING are characterised by comparatively low wages, physically hard work, low and misrecognised skills and patchy to low interest representation. Additionally, they are structured by strong gender and ethnic segmentation, both between and within sectors. Through this accumulation of disadvantages, they reiterate social vulnerability for workers, for instance through health risks or discontinuous employment. The sectors that are women-dominated (elderly care, commercial cleaning, catering) tend to cover work peaks through part-time work and fragmented contracts with a tendency of companies to offer shorter hours and lower incomes, whereas male-dominated sectors retain full-time employment but extend working hours and render employment more insecure and discontinuous. For the men and women in operative jobs in these sectors - who generally have limited labour market alternatives and often have entered the sector in their middle age after discontinuous employment histories - employment continuity, regular payment of wages, work close to home and a good working climate often represent achievements already. Sometimes careers from the operative level to skilled or lower management positions are possible but hierarchies in these sectors are mostly flat, demands in management are high and incentives to advance limited. However, it is possible to shape 'hard work' in problematic sectors in a favourable way and good practices are observable in Europe - for details see: http://www.walqing.eu/webresource
Inclusive employment regimes, welfare state provisions, a functioning social partnership and worker voice can provide 'institutional anchors for job quality'. Smart organisational solutions and management strategies can render workflows more continuous, employment more secure and contribute to service innovations. New technology can lessen health and safety hazards. Inclusive and collaborative working cultures and corporate social responsibility also contribute to good job quality.
Project Context and Objectives:
The European Union still has high ambitions for employment growth. The Europe 2020 agenda set the goal of an employment rate of 75% for the population aged 20-64 for each member state, and the 2012 'employment package' aims to 'harness the potential of job-rich sectors' for employment creation. Hence, the former Lisbon goals aiming for 'more and better jobs' and 'to become the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world' are still on the European agenda.
The WALQING project has addressed the aim of EU policy to create 'more and better jobs' with a view towards jobs with more problematic job quality. Although some 16.67 million more jobs were created in Europe from 2000 to 2008, WALQING has found that slightly more than half of these jobs are of low quality with different profiles of insecurity, low discretion and high strain. Indeed, in several growing sectors low wages, low or undervalued skills, problematic working conditions and precarious employment accumulate. This is particularly true for the sectors selected by WALQING for more in-depth investigation: construction and labour-intensive services 'on the ground', i.e. cleaning, catering, elderly care and waste management.
Jobs in these sectors require considerable flexibility and mobility from workers. They face cost pressures both by employers and clients. While catering to citizens' basic needs and contributing centrally to European societies' quality of life, they receive little recognition and respect in turn. However, improvements in the quality of 'bad jobs' are possible. They are contingent upon 'institutional anchors', inclusive national employment regimes and worker voice. Liberalisation, austerity and logics of price-based competition mostly exert downward pressures on job quality in low-wage service jobs. In particular, the public sector as a provider and client of services plays a central part in the shaping of these jobs.
WALQING has aimed to increase researchers', stakeholders', managers' and policy makers' knowledge of the quality of work and life in new and growing jobs. It has brought representatives of these groups together to identify challenges and address issues of restructuring, sustainability and gender equality. It has helped to build actors' capacity to identify problematic configurations of market developments, policies and company strategies in Europe. It also contributes to the dissemination of good practices and examples of ways to shape low-skilled and low-wage work in favourable ways that can be translated across Europe while maintaining or even enhancing the competitiveness of companies and economies. It thus has tightened the loops between societal practice and social science analysis. It has combined institutionalist, organisational and action-research perspectives.
Workpackage 2: Patterns of growth and changing quality of work in Europe
The main task of this workpackage was to use the EU LFS to map and compare employment expansion in business functions and to analyse and compare available quality indicators of the jobs in these business functions.
A first task of the WALQING project was to define job growth in such a way that it can be applied to the data provided by the European Labour Force Survey (ELFS). Conventional concepts of employment growth choose between either a relative trend index, e.g. expressed in percentages, or an absolute trend index, expressed in numbers such as hours, workers or production output. These indices have a strong but imperfect rank correlation (r = 0.823) so that a top ten of growing sectors looks quite different depending on the measurement method applied. In other words: in small sectors relative changes will become apparent more easily, and are more relevant, while in large sectors absolute figures of employment change are more likely to become manifest, and are more telling. A sound comparison of these trends can only be achieved by balancing the different concepts of growth. For this purpose, WALQING developed an index balancing absolute and relative trends (BART Index).
The list of growing sectors according to the BART Index largely resembles the ranking by absolute growth. The influence of relative growth is limited to differences in two or three places. We found that this effect is due to the weighting by each sector's share in total national employment: in most cases, a high relative growth was merely a consequence of sectors being smaller.
Again, the data confirm that European employment growth has not exclusively been shaped by knowledge-intensity and skills-upgrading and that employment growth does not automatically generate 'better jobs' with satisfactory wages, autonomy, learning opportunities, secure careers and participation in the workplace. The growth of IT and Business Activities is in line with expectations with very little differentiation over countries. These sectors also have above-average job quality, although in Business Activities there are pockets of problematic conditions. However, the trends of specialisation, tertiarisation and new technology are quite general. Other trends that are more country-specific are only gradually receiving political and strategic attention: the transition of markets, the construction of the built environment and infrastructure (Construction and Waste), the development of public services (Health, Education), and developments in the consumption economy (Hotels & Restaurants, Households as Employers).
Workpackage 3: Job quality in growing and declining economic sectors of the EU
The next aim of the WALQING project was to examine whether the level of job quality varies between growing sectors and sub-sectors of the economy in the European Union and Norway. To meet this aim, an important first step was to develop an aggregate measure of job quality using the European Working Conditions Survey data from 2005. The aggregated measure was based on the average of thirty-eight measures that reflect key characteristics of the five main dimensions of job quality, namely, work organisation, wages and payment system, security and flexibility, skills and development, and engagement and representation. Furthermore, each measure was weighted according to the unique percentage of variance that it explains in three aspects of employee well-being (physical well-being, psychological well-being, and job satisfaction) and the valence of its relationship with these aspects of well-being. The weighted job quality measure therefore represents the extent to which a job has a combination of factors that are likely to promote employee well-being.
The data analyses outlined have provided the evidence on which WALQING has selected five sectors for in-depth investigation. In addition, we chose mobile elderly care (in Health & Social Work) and cleaning, which occurs in Business Activities, Private Households and Other Services, as occupations that have been growing, are likely to grow further and are known for problematic working conditions.
A taxonomy of job types covering all dimensions of job quality
Based on the analyses carried out in the first WALQING workpackages, we developed a new taxonomy of job types in Europe from EWCS 2005 data. In contrast to existing analyses, this covers all dimensions of job quality. The taxonomy was built using a two-step cluster analysis on a sample of the EWCS 2005 that included all industrial sectors (NACE Level 2) in the EU-27 countries and Norway. The two-step procedure cannot handle missing data and so the sample size was 16778.
The resulting six clusters contained 2723 (16.2%), 3311 (19.7%), 3051 (18.2%), 3070 (18.3%), 2084 (12.4) and 2539 (15.1%) cases. Based on an analysis of the differences in the different aspects of job quality between the six clusters, we labelled each cluster as:
- Active jobs, e.g. research scientist;
- Saturated jobs, e.g. senior manager;
- Team-based jobs, e.g. software engineer;
- Passive-independent jobs, e.g. night security guard, receptionist;
- High-strain jobs, e.g. manufacturing line operator; and
- Insecure jobs, e.g. temporary office worker.
These job types are similar to the well-known Karasek and Theorell typology (1990), with some differentiation. They appear to be distinguishable according to four dimensions, namely:
a) work organisation;
b) a dimension consisting of working time flexibility, pay and skills and development;
c) non-standard working hours; and
d) job security.
The three job types with a higher than average level of job quality were active, saturated and team-based jobs, and the three job types with a lower than average level of job quality were passive-independent, insecure and high-strain jobs. However, the highest-quality job type with the most favourable outcomes was the active job type while the lowest-quality job type with the least favourable outcomes was the high-strain job type. Saturated jobs were of a relatively high quality and have favourable outcomes in terms of job satisfaction, but appeared somewhat problematic with regard to physical and psychological well-being. In contrast, passive-independent jobs were of a low job quality, were problematic with regard to employee job satisfaction but less problematic with regard to physical and psychological well-being.
Measuring the quality of employment growth
The Labour Force Survey indicates that, while the number of jobs in the EU increased from 209.874 million in 2000 to 226.552 million in 2008 (an increase of 7.9%), this increase was largely confined to the service sector. The proportion of service-sector jobs rose from 65.9 to 70.4%, while the proportion of jobs in the agricultural sectors declined from 7.3 to 5.6% and, in the industrial sectors, it declined from 26.8 to 24%.
However, although more jobs have been created, it is important to establish whether the expansion of the service sector has led to an overall increase in the number of high-quality jobs and whether more high-quality jobs have been created by the expansion of the service sector than would have been achieved if job growth had been evenly distributed among the three main sectoral groups.
In summary, results suggest that while more 'better' jobs were created from 2000-2008, an equal number of 'not-better' jobs were created over the same period. Furthermore, the shift towards services has only resulted in an extra 895,900 high-quality jobs being created from 2000-2008, which is a rather small increase when compared to the total number of high-quality jobs in 2008 (100.428 million) and the total number of jobs in 2008 (226.552 million). From a policy perspective, this implies that the shift towards the service sector cannot be relied upon to increase the proportion of high-quality jobs and that active intervention is needed to increase the proportion of high-quality jobs. Indeed, based on current evidence, even if all jobs were service jobs, the proportion of high-quality jobs would still be outweighed by low-quality jobs.
Workpackage 4: Quality of life in Europe
What does quality of life mean?
Most of the studies in the field of social sciences have answered this question referring the concept of quality of life to 'the overall well-being of individuals in a broad and multidimensional sense' (Bohnke 2005). This large definition emphasises three main aspects that can represent a good starting point for the conceptualisation of quality of life/individual well-being:
a) Although 'quality of life' has often been analysed as a property of society on the whole, it mainly refers to resources, conditions or evaluative judgements from a micro-perspective. Therefore, quality of life should be best conceptualised in terms of individuals' life situations.
b) Quality of life cannot be defined with reference to a single aspect only, such as the disposable income. Instead, the notion of 'quality' should apply to several domains that may affect human life experience. It follows that any attempt to analyse quality of life should take into consideration the multidimensional nature of this concept. This implies analysing the different aspects that contribute to individual well-being as well as their interactions.
c) Hence, 'quality of life' should be defined 'in a broad sense', also because we should consider both its objective and subjective facets.
The following dimensions appear to be particularly important in determining individual well-being:
- material well-being;
- housing and living environment;
- social well-being; and
- subjective well-being.
In WALQING, we have focused on these dimensions according to data.
Employment, unemployment and the quality of life
WALQING offers fresh empirical evidence on the levels of quality of life reported by the European population in 2006-2007. In particular, we used data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions and the second European Quality of Life Survey to draw a complex picture representing the level of well-being experienced by employees in the European countries covered by the surveys. Past literature provides some suggestions for the construction of an analytical framework for studying quality of life. According to this framework, four main domains of quality of life are analysed: material well-being (disposable income, commodities capacity/deprivation, housing and living environmental), social integration (recreational activities, close networks, civic participation), physical well-being (health status, access to health care services) and subjective well-being (satisfaction, happiness, sense of fulfilment).
Focusing on the overall EU population we note that unemployed people report greater deprivation in terms of income, commodities, living conditions and health. We also find variations in terms of life satisfaction, happiness and sense of fulfilment depending on the employment status (unemployed individuals are less satisfied) underlining the existence of a link between domains of quality of life and employment.
Many of the main results in this report underline the important differences in well-being that exist across vulnerable groups of employees. In particular, we observed that:
- low educated employees, employees born outside the EU24 and blue-collar workers report higher levels of (income, commodities and area) deprivation, poorer health and lower social integration in terms of recreational activities, close networks and civic participation;
- employees working in six sectors report lower degrees of both material well-being and social integration. Three of these are growing sectors: construction; wholesale and retail trade; other community, social and personal service activities, private households with employed persons, extra-territorial organisations and bodies. The others are agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing; mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity, gas and water supply; repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and personal and household goods; and
- young employees (aged 16-29), and single employees report higher levels of deprivation in terms of income, commodities and living conditions.
We did not observe strong differences across gender and age groups. This may be due to self-selection of workers in the best sectors and occupations.
The complex picture of quality of life in many EU countries has been simplified with the rather crude device of grouping countries according to their characteristics and geographical position. On one hand, the Southern and the Eastern European countries have lower income levels, greater commodities and area deprivation, poorer health and lower social integration in terms of recreational leisure activities. Nonetheless, Southern European Countries have stronger close family and friends networks. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom have particularly high levels of civic participation, lower commodities and area deprivation, higher income levels and better health.
The influence of working conditions
Other vulnerable groups considered in the analysis are employees experiencing bad working conditions. The key results in this respect are the following:
- Low paid and temporary employees as well as involuntary part-time employees report lower levels of material well-being, poorer health and lower social integration in terms of recreational activities, and lower levels of close networks. These results suggest an expected positive correlation between low income/job insecurity and bad quality of life.
- Employees with discontinuous careers report lower degrees of material well-being and lower social integration in terms of recreational activities and civic participation. This finding also points to a positive correlation between low income/job insecurity and bad quality of life.
- Individuals working without supervisory responsibility report lower levels of material well-being and lower social integration. Thus, a positive correlation between learning at work and bad quality of life emerges. This may be due to the correlation between jobs without supervisory responsibility, low wages, low skilled jobs and difficulties in having career advances without an appropriate learning process.
- Employees working more than 48 hours per week (in their main job) report lower social integration (recreational activities and close networks) and higher levels of deprivation in terms of income, commodities and living conditions. This result suggests a positive correlation between difficulties in work-life balance and material deprivation. This is possible when employees reporting long hours in the survey are also individuals with low hourly wages, i.e. people who are forced to work such long hours to climb out of poverty.
- Satisfaction, happiness and sense of fulfilment are positively associated with good working conditions and negatively associated with bad working conditions. In particular, employees perceiving job insecurity, experiencing stress-related risks, intensity at work, and performing boring tasks are less satisfied/happy/fulfilled. Instead, employees experiencing autonomy at work, career opportunities and adequacy of pay are more satisfied/happy/fulfilled.
Finally, the report shows how sectors/occupations characterised by high incidence of 'bad' working conditions are also characterised by high incidence of 'bad' quality of life. For example, at sector/occupation level, we observe positive correlations between high incidence of temporary contracts paying low wages (or workers experiencing a discontinuous career) and material deprivations. Generally, focusing on blue-collar employees, independently of the sectors where they are employed, we note high incidences of both job/income insecurity and bad quality of life in terms of material well-being, health and social integration. Surprisingly, white-collar workers working in the following sectors report high levels of both job/income insecurity and deprivations closer to the levels reported by blue-collar workers: hotels and restaurants; wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and personal and household goods.
These conclusions give some indication of the complexity of the relationship existing between quality of life and employment and working conditions. Even if this relationship needs to be further analysed, some policy suggestions may be drawn. In fact, from our findings emerge some vulnerable groups and some sectors/occupations experiencing high risks of suffering both bad working conditions and bad quality of life. These vulnerable groups and employees working in these sectors/occupations should be the main targets of policies.
Workpackage 5: Stakeholder strategies to improve quality of work in Europe
Workpackage 5 of WALQING analysed the strategies of stakeholders aimed at addressing quality of work in the cleaning, catering, care, waste and construction sectors (see Kirov 2011). Each sector was investigated in 4-5 partner countries with different production and welfare state regimes. For each sector we conducted between 16 and 29 expert interviews with social partner representatives at the national as well as at EU level, supported by desk research. Several processes shape the framework in which sector stakeholders develop their strategies.
This restructuring differentiates the employment relationship: employment, control and responsibility are divided between the employer and the employer's customer, resulting in three-way employment relations that render interest representation and protection of workers, and also the organisation of daily work difficult.
Public procurement is a central issue addressed by stakeholders in these sectors. While they regard the public sector as an important client with a potential for setting standards of good practice, and for being amenable to politically shaping working conditions, actually in some countries it is more known for rigorous cost-cutting. Indeed, the economic crisis is likely to put further constraints on public budgets that limit improvements of the quality of work, unless the social cost of problematic working conditions and poverty wages is factored in.
The European economy is becoming more internationalised and this is most apparent in that the impact of large corporations on local (company) policies is increasing. The effects of this internationalisation on the quality of work are not unidirectional in the examined sectors. On the one hand, large companies are extremely careful about their image, which may lead to greater awareness of quality of work issues and corporate social responsibility (CSR). On the other hand, they are promoting increasing rationalisation and standardisation of work through new methods and tools that may improve productivity but can lead to an overall work intensification. They also shape the competition through their sheer economic strength, especially in contexts where impoverished clients delay payments. Very large companies in catering and cleaning (as perhaps in services in general) are trying to expand their activities in different areas, offering integrated services such as facilities management. However, this does not necessarily lead to wider career options for workers and so far does not appear to have a major impact on frontline workers.
Collective bargaining is still the main instrument of addressing quality of work in the selected sectors. However, collective bargaining has different traditions, coverage and scopes. While in some industrial relations systems it is possible to generalise meaningful outcomes through collective bargaining, in others, institutional weaknesses make themselves felt especially in new sectors.
New types of institutions that are promoted by the European Union are the skills councils. In the sectors of catering or elderly care there are good examples from the UK. However, there is a debate on how these institutions could be transferred to countries where they do not exist - e.g. the new member states. Where households are clients as in care or domestic cleaning, or where vulnerable groups have little interest representation, NGOs and social entrepreneurs can play a complementary part in negotiating working conditions and standards, acting as employers or representing workers' or clients' interests.
The integration of vulnerable groups is also part of the initiatives of stakeholders in low-wage sectors. Skill upgrading, including language training is found as part of CSR initiatives, and also some social support for workers in difficult situations (for example debt). In cleaning, waste and catering, social economy actors play a part, especially in Southern Europe. However this development has ambiguous effects. On the one hand, it provides labour market integration for vulnerable groups and the long-term unemployed; on the other hand, it may undermine the quality of work for the 'normal' employees unless collective agreements and regulations are sufficiently comprehensive.
In construction and cleaning, stakeholders also aim to combat illegal practices and undeclared work to level the playing field. Initiatives aim at introducing identity cards to check if a person on the site has a regular contract or not and may also certify training (Norway, Spain). In Bulgaria, social partners work to activate the inspections with the GLI and the NSSI and the National Construction Supervision Directorate (NCSD) on construction sites in order to combat grey practices.
Workpackage 6: Job quality and company strategies in European low-wage sectors
The 'new and growing' sectors and functions selected for WALQING are commercial cleaning, waste management, construction, elderly care and catering. With the exception of construction, these are services that have certain aspects in common: they are labour-intensive and delivered 'on the ground', that means, they involve work at clients' sites, and some mobility between workplaces. The same applies to construction. There are distinguishable downward pressures on job quality that result from a lack of resources and increasingly cost-based competition in the sectors affected and take shape in different context-specific ways. At the same time, retaining favourable configurations of work and employment requires increasing and increasingly coordinated efforts by a number of actors in the field.
Since all sectors investigated are characterised by irregular workflows and contingencies resulting from client needs and expectations, flexible employment contracts and working hours play a central part and centrally contribute to problematic working conditions. The effects are strikingly gendered: The women-dominated service sectors tend to address flexibility through part-time work (often also marginal part-time or zero-hours contracts) whereas the male-dominated sectors use both subcontracting and long working hours in the case of construction and comparatively short de-facto working times (within full-time employment) in waste collection.
The sectors selected are low-wage sectors, albeit not always in a strict sense of wages below two thirds of the median wage. Living wages are not a matter of course in the lower-wage sectors, and further downward pressures are likely. In the female-dominated sectors under investigation (care, cleaning, catering), the problem is exacerbated by the fact that low wages are often earned on a part-time basis, which obviously results in very low de-facto wages. Lowest low wages are found in the low-income countries of Eastern Europe and across Europe in the elderly care sector and partly in catering, where low- or zero-hours contracts are on the increase, which implies high insecurity and 'lower low incomes' for workers. Still, for many workers, a job with regular and reliable payment of wages already is an improvement over other experiences in low-wage sectors.
In the sectors investigated, skill levels generally are low although workers and managers are aware that working successfully even in operative positions requires certain competencies such as common sense and awareness, physical stamina, social and interpersonal skills. Their importance makes itself felt in terms of difficulties recruiting the 'right' people for the job. Social inequality, unequal labour market access and gender and ethnic discrimination provide diverse reserve potentials of capable people with limited labour market alternatives. Skills are not even regarded as an asset in some cases in catering, cleaning, and waste collection, where managements perceive training as useless because there are no options to develop anyway, or because they prefer to train workers according to the company's specific rules and thus do not require or even appreciate previous training or work experience. Careers from the operative level into first-line management positions are still found and regarded as a possibility in the sectors of WALQING. However, higher positions may have their own issues of job quality. In cleaning and construction, and partly in catering, they are characterised by very high workloads, long workdays, comprehensive and somewhat ill-defined responsibilities, and very limited compensation.
Employee representation varies substantially between sectors, countries and cases. Indeed, there is some evidence that on the respective shop floors, union influence is less perceptible than on the sectoral level. It appears that a visible union organisation is most likely when there is a strong tradition for it, as in waste collection with its roots in the public sector, or also in parts of construction, which conversely suggests a lack of more recent organising successes of unions in growing sectors. For trade unions, access to workers as well as control of employment and working conditions are particularly difficult when work is spatially distributed, as in cleaning, catering and construction. In some sectors and cases, specifically in the elderly care and catering cases, not only disinterest but also ignorance about trade unions and other forms of employee representation are striking. Another problem to be tackled by social partnership is the co-existence of different collective agreements and thus different employment conditions for groups of workers actually doing the same job, resulting from outsourcing and shifts of jobs between sectors. Alignment risks a downward spiral of losses of rights, benefits and income.
Workpackage 7: The perspective, experience and work trajectories of employees in European low wage jobs
Employees' subjective perceptions of their work in low-wage sectors and functions show several consistent tendencies across sectors. First, employees identify with and attempt to make sense of their work and the choice they have made to work in the sector. This is particularly striking in elderly care, where workers regard their job not only as an occupation or profession, but rather as a vocation.
In all sectors, workers' perceptions are characterised by reflections on the benefits of the job relative to available alternatives, either within the sector or in the surrounding (available) labour market. As a result there is an overall tendency to emphasise the positive aspects of the work. In catering, e.g. regular working hours are seen as positive and put forward as the main argument for working in the sector, although workers are also aware that other features (e.g. wages) are less attractive in catering compared to the hotels and restaurants sector as a whole. Similarly in waste collection, the outdoor work and being able to work 'independently' is emphasised, while the low status of the job is played down. Finally, construction workers favour the 'craftsmanship' while downplaying the long working hours and/or the long time spent commuting to and from work.
Second, some of the sectors are generally acknowledged as being low status jobs and workers in these jobs have generally not selected them as their first choice. This is the case in cleaning, waste collection and elderly care and for kitchen assistants in catering. However, workers in these jobs have been surprised about the jobs and have found work tasks and the social relationships that they have built more interesting than they had expected. In addition, work in these jobs is often viewed as a solution to a problematic social situation, e.g. losing one's job in another sector, and is valued simply because it generates an income.
Third, viewing the five sectors together, it should be mentioned that the gender segregation is significant and workers' perceptions of their work to a certain extent follow stereotypical gender lines. Women value regular working hours (catering), meaning in the work (elderly care) and having the option to reconcile work and family life (all sectors), while men tend to emphasise independence and discretion, wages and leisure time. Women (and some of the few men working in 'female' sectors) found it difficult to accept the lack of social recognition that they perceive their work received. In particular, women working in elderly care explicitly raised the lack of social recognition, while men who work in waste were found to be less concerned with the reputation of the work and more concerned with the actual employment and working conditions. The concern with lack of recognition was also related to wage levels. Particularly in elderly care, wages were regarded as both low and unfair in comparison with the importance of the work.
Vulnerabilities have been analysed in terms of the extent to which work constrains or sustains future risk of social exclusion. The following groups of workers seem to be particularly vulnerable in the 'new', liberalised work situation where employment changes, where increased flexibility and customer orientation is expected and where continuous relationships are hard to maintain:
- older workers (45+);
- migrants/ethnic minorities;
- temporary workers/seasonal workers; and
- single parents.
The present labour market, characterised by increasing privatisation, outsourcing, use of fixed term contracts and increasing customer orientation, exposes new groups (e.g. older workers, migrant workers and temporary workers) to vulnerability in terms of social risk.
There appears to be a relationship between the kind of employment situation employees have and their future aspirations. Those in a fixed-term position often try to get a permanent position and those who work part-time or (in cleaning) in split shifts try to get additional and/or more regular working hours. In addition, workers who feel that they have a 'steady job' (often but not always referring to an open-ended contract) are more interested in upskilling and in future career options than those who have more insecure employment.
Workpackage 8: Policy gaps and potentials for job quality
The subjects addressed centrally by the workpackage and the report compiled for it (Jaehrling/Lehndorff 2012) concern specifics of the institutional environment of the sectors investigated by WALQING with their low wages and often precarious employment conditions, which present new challenges to stakeholders at the interface of welfare state, legal regulation, industrial relations and the regulation of markets for services.
The findings underline that it is socially irresponsible to organise public tendering procedures for the procurement of outsourced, formerly public services focused solely on price. True, European case law sets rather narrow limits for responsible public procurement. While it should not be forgotten that case law can be reoriented by the strengthening of fundamental social rights in primary EU law, national legislation, industry-wide standards and collective agreements backed by public policy can still restrict the competition focused on prices and workloads.
The second message is that collective bargaining is crucial, but it needs backing by public policy. The crucial question here is collective bargaining coverage, next to the power resources of major actors involved. High coverage rates are necessary, if not sufficient, for risk-prone jobs to be moved out of the low-wage zone. High coverage will only be made possible by statutory extension mechanisms. It should also be noted that there is a very close link between statutory extension practices and procurement regimes. The weaker the (collectively bargained) job quality standards are in industries where public procurement plays a decisive role, the more important is the statutory extension of collective agreements.
A third lesson of the WALQING case studies addresses the implications of growing risk-prone labour market segments for the effectiveness of welfare state institutions. What is increasingly needed is a new debate on policies suitable to ensure a decent income at retirement age or in case of disability before retirement age. This issue has become even more important by recent or ongoing pension reforms in many EU countries aimed to postpone retirement or to reduce pension levels. Moreover, the new debate needed should address the structure of the expenditure side of pension systems but should also go beyond and include their revenue base. A similar need of a review of current policy approaches applies to the issue of 'active ageing'.
Workpackage 9: Engaging stakeholders in developing working conditions
The action research projects conducted by partners were varied and had to be tailored to the respective company-specific and sectoral environment. Forms of dialogue involved various modes of gathering and exchanging own experiences, focus group discussions, future scenario workshops, presentations by researchers, facilitated and result-oriented dialogues and cyclical/spiralling processes of linked workshops.
The amount of 'action' produced varied in all five cases. Generally, most partners decided on an approach on the sectoral level first which managed to indeed identify salient issues and problems that engaged participants enough for continued dialogue. On the company level, entering the process was more difficult. However, the Bulgarian waste project made considerable progress in addressing basic issues of quality of work. Indeed, addressing quality of work issues through action research, problems and relevancies need to be defined by the field and these processes can contain some surprises. They also take time, and resources in WP9 were too limited to allow for a stretched-out progress. The art of linking projects together, initiating one while working in another and mobilising resources for that, emerges thus as an increasingly integral part of Action Research.
- Bohnke, Petra (2005): First European Quality of Life Survey: life satisfaction, happiness and sense of belonging. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of European Communities.
- Hohnen, Pernille (2012): Capacities and vulnerabilities in precarious work. The perspective of employees in European low wage jobs. Synthesis report on employees' experience and work trajectories for Workpackage 7 of the WALQING project. Deliverable 7.14 'Integrated report on individual perspectives and agency of jobholders in critical sectors' for the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/fileadmin/WALQING_Del7.14_fin.pdf
- Holman, David/McClelland, Charlotte (2011): Job Quality in Growing and Declining Economic Sectors of the EU. WALQING working paper 2011.3 Deliverable 4 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. Manchester, May 2011. http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=38
- Holtgrewe, Ursula/Sardadvar, Karin (2012): Hard work. Job quality and organisation in European low-wage sectors. Synthesis report on company case studies for Workpackage 6 of the WALQING project. Deliverable 6.13 'Integrated report on organisational case studies' for Workpackage 6 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/fileadmin/WALQING_Del6.13_fin.pdf
- Jaehrling, Karen/Lehndorff, Steffen (2012): Anchors for Job Quality: Policy gaps and potentials. Final report of Workpackage 8 and Deliverable 8.9 ('Report on possibilities and gaps of (stakeholder and state) policies') of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597, University of Duisburg-Essen. http://www.walqing.eu/fileadmin/walqing_Del8.9_PolicygapsWP8.pdf
- Karasek, Robert A./Theorell, Tores (1990): Healthy work: Stress, productivity, and the reconstruction of working life. New York: Basic Books.
- Kirov, Vassil (2011): How many does it take to tango? Stakeholders' strategies to improve quality of work in Europe. Deliverable 5.7 'Synthesis report on sector specifics in stakeholder policies and quality of work and life' for Workpackage 5 of the WALQING Project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/fileadmin/download/external_website/publications/walqing_Del5.7_SynthesisreportWP5_fin.pdf
- Poggi, Ambra/Bizzotto, Giulia/Devicienti, Francesco/Vesan, Patrik/Villosio, Claudia (2011): Quality of Life in Europe: Empirical evidence. WALQING working paper 2011.4. Deliverable 5 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597, Moncalieri, May 2011. http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=38
- Ravn, Johan E./Hasle, Peter/Holtgrewe, Ursula/Kirov, Vassil/Markova, Ekaterina/Van Peteghem, Jan/Peycheva, Darina/Ramioul, Monique/Sardadvar Karin/Sorensen, Ole H./Torvatn, Hans/Oyum, Lisbeth (2012): Engaging stakeholders in developing working conditions. Summary report on action research and policy lessons. Deliverable 9.15 'Summary report on action research and policy lessons' for Workpackage 9 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/fileadmin/WALQING_DEL9.15_fin.pdf
- Vandekerckhove, Sem/Capeau Bart/Ramioul, Monique (2010): Structural growth of employment in Europe; Balancing Patterns of growth and changing quality of work in Europe. WALQING working paper 2010.1. Deliverable 3.1 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=38
- Vandekerckhove, Sem/Ramioul Monique (2011a): Patterns of growth and changing quality of work in Europe. WALQING working paper 2011.2. Deliverable 3.3 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=38
- Vandekerckhove, Sem/Ramioul Monique (2011b): Working with business functions. How occupational groups provide insight in Labour Force Survey statistics. Walqing working paper 2011.1. Deliverable 3.2 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597. http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=38
- Vesan, Patrik/Bizzotto, Giulia (2011): Quality of Life in Europe: Conceptual approaches and empirical definitions. WALQING working paper 2011.5. A literature review for WP4 of the WALQING project, SSH-CT-2009-244597, Moncalieri, January 2011. http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=38
Key messages of WALQING
In all sectors, there are distinguishable downward pressures on job quality that result from a lack of resources and increasingly cost-based competition and take shape in different context-specific ways. Both public and private sector organisations now set a strong focus on cutting costs, and with the crisis, end-customers also limit their spending, which is noted in catering in particular.
This is reflected in adverse outcomes for employment conditions and quality of work, such as work intensification and a fragmentation of employment. Increasingly, fixed-term employment contracts are used to align employment with the duration of a service contract. In the feminised sectors, companies offer shorter-hour part-time contracts, occasionally for the same amount of work. In construction, subcontracting is extended. In recent years, the cost pressure was exacerbated in the context of the economic crisis. In the public sector in particular, previous reforms have often decreased wage levels and pay supplements and benefits for new recruits (Holtgrewe/Sardadvar 2012).
These increases in uncertainty contribute to vicious circles: With shorter time horizons of contracts, organisations become increasingly reluctant to invest in skill upgrading and more ergonomic equipment. This increases turnover and health and safety risks. It also requires more regimented and standardised work organisation, which in turn leads to even less investment in skill. Indeed, in catering, cleaning and construction in particular, managers complain about difficulties in finding sufficiently capable workers. Not least, we find that workers under more precarious employment conditions, with lower skills and space for job crafting tend to limit their aspirations further (Hohnen 2012).
Nevertheless, favourable configurations of pay, work quality and professionalisation are possible. They are contingent on inclusive employment regimes and an active social partnership that is capable of maintaining and developing standards of training, continuous employment and technological improvement and health & safety. Consequently, several good practice examples and quality of work initiatives are found in the Nordic countries. In countries with less institutionally provided social inclusion in particular, local initiatives by companies, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship also contribute to improving working conditions. Examples of good practices on both the sectoral and company level can be found at http://www.walqing.eu/webresource
Interventions by the WALQING team to establish dialogues on job quality and develop context-specific measures of improvement are found in Ravn et al. 2012. Clients, especially the public sector, can as centrally contribute to improving quality of work as they can contribute to its downgrading. They can enforce standards that contribute to the quality of work, not just by being prepared to pay realistic prices for good-quality services but also by demanding certain skills levels or technical equipment. The attention that European social partners are giving to socially responsible public procurement thus is well-placed, and these initiatives need to be extended and devolved to the national and regional levels across Europe (cf. Kirov 2011).
Obviously, the 'new and growing jobs' outside the sectors that are commonly associated with knowledge and innovation need political attention. Regardless of their location in the public, non-profit or private sector they provide important products and services that contribute centrally to basic human needs and to European societies' achievements of quality of life and sustainability. They also have potential for innovation of processes and products with regard to new technologies that can render work environments more ergonomic, eliminate work peaks where possible and coordinate distributed work. Often, technological, organisational and social innovations will need to be related in realising that potential.
However, policy interventions will require a consideration of both national and sectoral contexts. Not all 'good practices' found in one country or sector will easily translate to another. For example, workers' interest in skills improvement is shaped by previous learning experience, their current aspirations and sense of security, and expectations of actual usability. Hence, improvements will need to be embedded with a work organisation allowing for skill utilisation and possibilities of advancement, payment schemes that remunerate both formal and informal learning and a sense of recognition.
On the other hand, the comparison of practices across countries and sectors in WALQING generates ideas to improve job quality. For example, comparing wages and benefits between the female- and male-dominated sectors, WALQING found that in construction and waste, social partners have traditionally developed performance-related pay schemes and ways of compensating mobile work through supplements and allowances that so far are lacking in care or cleaning and might provide inspiration for ways of rewarding flexibility, quality or productivity.
Policy makers and social partners need to find ways of creating safety nets against downward spirals of cost-cutting, precarious work and deskilling and of establishing 'level playing fields' in the newly developing markets.
These may consist in:
- using and extending the possibilities of improved public procurement procedures to ensure decent work, service quality and employment continuity;
- supporting and developing comprehensive institutions to do so and to enforce standards;
- developing welfare and industrial relations to become more inclusive and extend beyond 'core' sectors/segments;
- developing information flows and knowledge circulation between European, national and regional arenas of social dialogue in order to disseminate good practices and solutions within and also across sectors;
- involving new actors (clients, NGOs) and addressing new issues (environment);
- learning to negotiate and aggregate interests among increasingly diverse collective actors in multi-union or multi-employer-association bargaining; and
- encouraging and supporting investment in innovative job design,
An important conclusion is that equal opportunity policies are required in low-wage sectors and female-dominated as well as male-dominated sectors to tackle women's accumulating disadvantages within the generally disadvantaged sectors of the economy. Overall, the case-study findings indicate a low level of consciousness among managers about mechanisms of gender segmentation and women's structural disadvantages (Holtgrewe/Sardadvar 2012). With some exceptions, gender segmentations are perceived as 'natural', or as something external that cannot be influenced by management or stakeholders.
Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement in this regard, starting with disseminating knowledge about the basic mechanisms of gender segmentation and continuing with concrete measures to fight both horizontal and vertical segmentation as well as entry restrictions - because on a very material level, they are all de facto linked to women being disadvantaged in the currently dominating structural patterns. In this regard, much will depend on the strength and commitment of interest representation in the feminised sectors and again, the possibility of involving actors on the client side. Initiatives for daytime cleaning, for instance, could form alliances with municipal gender equality actors.
The impact of WALQING on interest representation and policy making
WALQING has put considerable effort into communicating with stakeholders from the beginning. It deliberately targeted the format of its output to different audiences and their needs, with a decided focus on stakeholders and policy makers, specifically those representing vulnerable groups on the labour market. It thus accelerated two-way communications between researchers and stakeholders and ensured that stakeholders participated in the identification of critical and auspicious configurations for the improvement of work and life in expanding low-wage and problematic jobs. While attempts at a very early involvement of stakeholders in the development of research questions for WP5 were given up soon (due to stakeholder representatives' stated preference for discussing 'results' over participating in more exploratory activities), as soon as there were results to present, the findings of the project raised considerable interest and generated valuable input by stakeholders. WALQING also managed to compare findings across both sectors and countries, identifying cross-cutting issues and challenges.
WALQING's own stakeholder workshops with 20-38 participants originating from WPs 5 and 9 provided extra benefit and mutual learning through focusing on cross-sectoral issues. This brought participants from unions, employer associations, other stakeholders and policy makers together and challenged them to expand the discussion beyond the usual issues of dialogue and negotiation - effectively extending the analytical benefits of comparative research practices to the discourse among practitioners.
Agendas of all seminars as well as PDFs of the presentations are available from the project website: http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=62
WALQING's dedicated dissemination output primarily consisted in the
- WALQING website: http://www.walqing.eu
- project newsletters and six policy briefs: http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=9
- the WALQING final conference: http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=15
- a web resource on policies, examples, issues and ideas to improve quality of work: http://www.walqing.eu/webresource
- a series of sector specific brochures http://www.walqing.eu/?id=154
The final conference brought together academic research by WALQING and related projects and stakeholders, in particular from the union side. The web resource and sector brochures present project findings in an easily accessible way and are aimed at practitioners who may not bother to read their way through a series of research reports.
Over and above the agreed deliverables of the project, a range of extra dissemination activities took place. For a complete overview, see 4.2 of this report. The first project newsletter, which doubles as a general project overview, was distributed nationally and also translated by partners into Lithuanian, Bulgarian and Spanish. Further dissemination efforts included an additional international conference, 'Addressing quality of work in Europe', with national and international contributors, organised by ISSK on 18-19 October 2012 in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a dissemination day, 'La calidad del empleo: una mirada sectorial y de genero', organised in Barcelona. Spain by UAB on 15 November 2012, and aimed at a discussion of WALQING-relevant issues based on a presentation of WALQING results.
WALQING partners have contributed to a number of conferences, presenting WALQING results to various academic and research communities, and will continue to do so (for a comprehensive list, see the overview in 4.2 of this report). Selected presentations and/or abstracts are available from http://www.walqing.eu/index.php?id=87
In addition, the WALQING project was presented at a considerable number of smaller conferences and dissemination events organised in the respective partners' national or regional contexts. For a comprehensive list, see the overview in 4.2 of this report.
Some results have also been fed into academic training and training of young researchers. Monique Ramioul presented WP2 results at the SOQUA Summer School on 'Evidence-based policy and social impact assessment' conducted in Vienna by the SORA, FORBA and ZSI institutes, and Darina Peycheva presented WALQING at the second CAPRIGHT Summer School on 'The European Social Model at the Crossroads: conceptual tools for analyzing critical points' at ENS-Cachan, Paris.
The planned book
As part of the WALQING project, the consortium agreed on publishing an edited volume of articles on the findings of the project. The current content is as follows:
Ursula Holtgrewe, Pernille Hohnen, Vassil Kirov, Monique Ramioul (eds): Hard work in new and growing jobs: New arenas and old questions (working title)
Other publications of the project include:
- Kuznecoviene, J, Naujaniene, R., Ciubrinskas, V. (2013): Work and life quality in Lithuania: policy gaps and employers' strategies (in Lithuanian), Vytautas Magnus University Press (forthcoming).
- Moreno, S (2013): Low-wage jobs, outsourcing and public policies: Who guarantees wages? European Journal of Industrial Relations (forthcoming).
- Holtgrewe, U, Kirov, V., Sorensen, O. (under review): Converging trends, path-dependent actors: The quality of work and industrial relations in the waste sector in three European countries, British Journal of Industrial Relations)
- Kirov, V. (ed.) (in print): Addressing quality of work in Europe. Proceedings from an International Conference, CIELA Publishers, Sofia, 2013
- Ramioul M., Van Petegem J. (under revision): Green construction: a straight road to teamwork? In: Team Performance.
- Holman, D. (2012): Job types and job quality in Europe. Human Relations. November 8, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0018726712456407.
- Sardadvar, K., Hohnen, P., Kuemmerling, A., McClelland, C., Naujaniene, R., Villosio, C. (2012): Underpaid, Overworked, but Happy? Ambiguous Experiences and Processes of Vulnerabilization in Domiciliary Elderly Care. E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies. Volume 1, No. 3-4.
- Kirov, V. Ramioul, M. (2012): Quality of work in the cleaning industry: a complex picture based on sectoral regulation and customer-driven conditions. In: Hauptmeier, M., Vidal, M. (eds): The Comparative Political Economy of Work and Employment Relations, London: Palgrave.
- Ferraris, M. (2012): The Road in the Quality of Work in the Public Utilities Sector: The Drivers. LABOR WP series, October 2012.
- Poggi, A. (2012): Public jobs and capabilities: the case of the Italian waste sector. LABOR WP series, November 2012.
Project website: http://www.walqing.eu
Grant agreement ID: 244597
1 December 2009
30 November 2012
€ 3 285 987
€ 2 699 546
Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt
Deliverables not available
Grant agreement ID: 244597
1 December 2009
30 November 2012
€ 3 285 987
€ 2 699 546
Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt
Grant agreement ID: 244597
1 December 2009
30 November 2012
€ 3 285 987
€ 2 699 546
Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt