Social partners sign deal on better working conditions in hairdressing industry

The social partners in Europe’s hairdressing industry have agreed to a deal that should contribute to improving working conditions in the industry. The agreement, signed in 2009, involves developing a European hairdressing certificate which specifies the competencies of a hairdresser. The initiative seeks to improve the low status and pay often associated with the hairdressing profession.

Controversy over minimum wage

In most EU Member States, the minimum wage has been an important point of policy and, at times, a heated issue in recent years. In Germany, for example, while the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) has launched a campaign to introduce a law setting a minimum wage, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) claims that such a move would cost 1.7 million jobs. The hairdressing industry is often at the forefront of the discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of a minimum wage, as the industry frequently has to contend with low wages.

European hairdressing certificate

A related aspect of low wages in the hairdressing industry involves the low status often associated with the hairdressing profession. The social partners in the industry have been keen to address this issue over the last decade. Since 2000, Coiffure EU, the European association of employer organisations in hairdressing, and UNI Europa: Hair and Beauty, part of Union Network International (UNI), have worked towards establishing a ‘European hairdressers’ certificate (level B), based on the acquisition, assessment and validation of a standard training programme’. Designed to complement rather than replace national diplomas, or so-called level A certificates, the European hairdressing certificate seeks to ‘improve the overall quality and image of the hairdressing services in Europe’. In addition, a level C certificate can be attained – this qualification is aimed at salon managers and owners.

In launching the European certificate, the social partners also hope to promote greater mobility of workers between Member States in the hairdressing industry. It is intended that the certificate will give Europe’s 1.5 million hairdressers the opportunity to transfer their skills.

Certification agreement

Signed in 2009, the new agreement specifies certain requirements that have to be fulfilled, including in relation to the following:

  • certification process – members of UNI Europa: Hair and Beauty and Coiffure EU are required to oversee the implementation and certification of level B training. This requires a detailed understanding of national certification procedures;
  • managing and issuing of certificates – the European social partners will design, produce and disseminate the certificates, as well as designate secretaries to manage the certificates. This will involve the secretaries calculating the cost of the certification process. National social partners will nevertheless retain the right to issue certificates;
  • ownership – the holder of the certificate is the person who has successfully completed the examination;
  • certificate structure – certificates will be issued in one language, that is, English;
  • review of training systems – the content and validity of level B and C training systems will be reviewed every four years. In such cases, the examination committee will play a leading role. Composed of equal numbers of social partners, this committee will monitor the implementation of levels B and C.

Health and safety provisions

The agreement also includes an important reference to health and safety, developing on earlier work in this area carried out by the social partners in 2001 and 2007. In particular, training programmes will integrate important aspects of the social partners’ covenant on health and safety from 2001. The covenant stipulates that:

salons and employees should provide the best possible conditions of work with respect to health, safety and dignity… European social partners want to minimise the risk of hairdressers getting occupational diseases from using the cosmetic products, such as allergies, eczema, and diseases in their air tubes (respiratory tracts).

Monitoring of implementation

Finally, UNI Europa: Hair and Beauty and Coiffure EU are aware that the agreement’s success will require close observation of the implementation process. To facilitate this, member organisations will have to provide a report on the agreement’s implementation to a steering group set up by the social partners.


The development and promotion of a European hairdressing certificate is to be welcomed. It represents a progressive move to ‘professionalise’ an industry that is too often associated with poor working conditions and low pay. In an attempt to raise the status of this profession, the move also constitutes an indirect attempt to improve gender equality in the labour market, as the hairdressing industry is dominated by female workers.

Michael Whittall, Technical University Munich

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