Impact of the crisis on gender equality
A new report for the European Commission prepared by the European Network of Experts on Gender Equality examines the impact of the crisis on the situation of women and men at work and on gender equality policies. The report found a significant impact for both men and women in areas such as type of contract, working hours, rights at work, and pressure and harassment at work, although the worsening of working conditions tended to affect men and women slightly differently.
The main aim of the report, The impact of the economic crisis on the situation of women and men and on gender equality policies (3MB PDF), is to chart the impact of the financial and economic crisis on those working in the EU and on gender equality policies in particular. The report was prepared by the European Network of Experts on Gender Equality (ENEGE) for the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice.
As well as the 27 EU Member States, the report covers other countries that are members of the European Economic Area (EEA) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and three candidate countries – Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Turkey. The report examines a range of issues including quality of work, employment conditions, and working conditions. The period covered by the report is from the second quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2012.
Among other sources, the report cites the findings of the European Social Survey (ESS), which investigated the impact of the crisis on working conditions in 17 EU Member States plus Israel, the Russian Federation and Switzerland. The ESS covered the two years from 2008 to 2010.
Involuntary part-time working and temporary contracts
The report found that the crisis has had an impact on employment conditions and quality of work, affecting the type of contract under which workers are recruited. Part-time working has increased, as employers shortened working time during the crisis as an alternative to redundancies.
The ESS found that more than 10% of female respondents reported having to work shorter hours in 14 countries, compared with 13 countries for more than 10% of men. In 2010, the share of involuntary part-time working as a proportion of all part-time working was 38.1%, up 5.8 percentage points from 2007; the corresponding level for women was 24% (up 3.8 percentage points). The highest levels of involuntary part-time working were recorded in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain (Bettio et al, 2013, p. 81).
In contrast, the incidence of temporary work fell during the crisis, for both men and women, as employers sought to shed temporary labour rather than their core workforce. The ESS notes that uncertainty about recovery in some EU Member States and the ongoing recession in others led to a mixed pattern in the incidence of temporary working after the initial fall at the start of the recession. There was a slight decrease in the share of temporary work among women during the downturn, but stability among men. The peak-to-trough share of male temporary employment declined from 13.7% to 12.5%, with a similar contraction recorded for the share of female temporary employment (from 15.2% to 14.1%) (Bettio et al, 2013, p. 82).
Deterioration of other types of working conditions
The report points to deterioration in a wide range of working conditions in some EU Member States as a result of the crisis. For example, it found instances of a worsening of the rights of pregnant women and those with small children in Greece, Ireland and Portugal and incidence of this during ‘normal’ economic times in the Czech Republic and Italy. These instances include rights such as maternity leave, reduced hours following maternity leave, discrimination against pregnant women and those with small children, and unfair dismissal among these groups. Conversely, take-up of parental leave increased during the recession in the Netherlands among both men and women.
Other impacts on working conditions include:
- delayed wage payments in countries such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland;
- specific instances of discrimination against women (for example in Portugal);
- occupational downgrading (for example in the UK);
- the conversion of standard into ‘atypical’ contracts and increases in irregular work (for example in Greece);
- increased work pressure and harassment at work (for example, in Finland and France);
- more frequent violations of health and safety regulations (for example, in Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia);
- more frequent violations of working time arrangements (for example, in Poland)
- more frequent violations of the right to join a union and take strike action (for example, in Turkey).
Other findings from the ESS
The report cites a number of other key findings from the ESS.
In 10 of the 17 EU Member States covered by the survey, at least 20% of male respondents reported having to take a reduction in pay. The corresponding number of countries was seven.
At least 20% of men reported having less job security in 10 countries, compared with nine for women.
At least 30% of male respondents reported to be doing less interesting work in nine countries, compared to six for women.
The report states that ‘the overall indication is that the worsening of working conditions has spared neither men nor women, but has affected them differently’ (Bettio et al, 2013, p. 80). It concludes that:
Working conditions have reportedly deteriorated in many other respects for men and women alike. The list includes delays in wage payments, occupational downgrading, violations of health and safety regulations or (normal) working schedules and trade union rights, pressure and harassment at work and downright discrimination.
(Bettio et al, 2013, p. 96)
It is evident that the severe and ongoing economic crisis in Europe has had a significant impact on working conditions for both men and women, affecting the types of contracts offered, working schedules and working hours, a range of rights at work, and work pressure and harassment. While enterprises are under severe pressure to carry on operating under challenging economic conditions, it is clear that workers should be protected as much as possible from a significant worsening of their working conditions. Social dialogue at all levels, including company level, could help play a part in this.
Bettio, F., Corsi, M., Lyberaki, A., Samek Lodovici, M. and Verashchagina, A. (2013), The impact of the economic crisis on the situation of women and men and on gender equality policies (3MB PDF), Synthesis report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies