EU conference on working conditions: gloomy picture on work arrangements and work-life balance

The European Commission hosted a conference on working conditions to mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April 2014. The discussions on the conference focussed on several topics related to the employment of older workers, such as work-life balance and effective labour inspections. The conference painted a gloomy picture on the situation of labour contracts and to the many challenges that are still preventing a sustainable work-life balance.

Lászlo Andor, the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, underlined: if workers are to work longer, it is vital that they have security on their workplace. Lászlo Andor also pointed out that the Commission will launch two important public consultations in the coming weeks: one on the lessons drawn from the first half of the Europe 2020 strategy, and a second one on ways to exit the employment crisis.

In the welcome speeches, the Belgian minister of Employment, Ms. De Coninck, expressed a view that was voiced a number of times at the conference: investing in security at the workplace and in good working conditions brings a return both to society and to businesses: products are more sustainable, workers more skilful and public health increases. Another statistic also set the scene: Mr Polaski from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) noted that according to Eurobarometer, 77% of workers are satisfied with their workplace, a statistic put into questions later by remarks on the methodology. The EU shows a falling rate of work-related injuries; however work-related health problems are increasing, most notably deriving from new risks such as stress. Businesseurope also underlined the importance of a well-functioning framework of work safety as an important aspect of competitiveness, calling for more possibilities to advise small and medium-sized enterprises on upgrading workplaces and for more attention on psycho-social risks.

Degrading of work contracts

The ILO representative pointed out that the share of involuntary part-time contracts increased from 53.7% of workers in 2000 to 60.8% in 2012. Bernadette Ségol from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) underlined this worsening of working conditions and referred to falling wages, the development of internships and fake independent workers. ETUC called for more investment in infrastructures, life-long learning as major aspects of better working conditions.
AGE considers that work places should allow older workers to work in good health until they reach retirement age. New forms of work-related health problems should be addressed as well as the development of precarious work arrangements.

Work-life and family life: ESF funding and going backwards

One of the workshops focussed on work life and family life. At the workshop, the Commission explained the possibility of acquiring the support of the European Social Fund on projects relating to work-life balance. In total 3 billion euros per year are available under this heading. Projects must be transnational, result-oriented and assured to take place as expected.

Eurofound and the Institute for Work and Qualifications in Duisburg presented current trends in work-life balance. Instead of progressing, the overall picture seems to worsen. In many countries, long working hours remain the norm, which is directly correlated to having fewer women in the labour market. While the aspirations of men and women on their share of work and family life are more and more similar, this reconciliation is not happening: men would like to reduce their working time, while women would like to be better able to manage family and work life together. Still, the choices of spending time on the family in the earlier career impacts disproportionately on the ability of women to regain employment later on. The development of part-time contracts leads to an effect where more women are working than several years ago, but they work less hours overall. Therefore, despite an interpretation of the statistics that is generally positive, we are regressing on the participation of women in the labour market.

Research evidence shows that women participate more in the labour market where collective labour rights are strong and where expenditure for childcare is high. However, labour market support is lessening in times of austerity.

AGE is concerned that the degrading situation of women on the labour market today will pose a serious challenge on pension gaps tomorrow. The gender pension gap in the EU is already at 37% and it is urgent to take measures to reduce it.

For more information, please contact Philippe Seidel, Junior Policy Officer on Employment and Social Protection at the secretariat: / +32 2 280 14 70

Link to the presentations of the conference

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