Job autonomy varies with income and qualifications

A new report, Degrees of job autonomy , (in Danish, Dimensioner af frihed i arbejdslivet ), commissioned by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen, LO), reveals that inequalities in the labour market are not only reflected in income differences but also in non-financial aspects, such as levels of job control, job development and job security.

Employees with the highest skills, best qualifications and highest incomes enjoy the highest levels of job autonomy in working life. Unskilled workers and low-income employees are the least favoured in this regard. The study, Degrees of job autonomy, (pdf file - in Danish, Dimensioner af frihed i arbejdslivet ), from the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen, LO), concludes that the non-financial inequalities are much more significant than monetary differences.

The study was conducted by labour market researcher, Professor Steen Scheuer from Roskilde University on the basis of telephone interviews with more than 2,000 Danish employees. It examines levels of job autonomy from a range of different angles such as job control, job development and job security. The study also looks at access to training and further education, fringe benefits at work, workplace flexibility and work-life balance.

Working hours and work methods

The degree of control over working hours, breaks and holidays, and the option to work at home, are strongly related to skills, income and sector. The figure above shows that 87% of highly educated white-collar workers can choose their own working hours, whereas only 59% of unskilled workers enjoy this freedom.

The difference between the public and private sectors is striking. Employees in the public sector have less opportunity to choose their own working hours (58%) than employees in the private sector (75%). The same pattern emerges in relation to control over breaks and holidays.

Skills and qualifications also influence the degree of control over work methods. 74% of higher educated white-collar workers have a high level of control over their work methods, whereas the percentage among unskilled workers is 53%.

With regard to gender, the study reveals that women have less control (57%) over working methods than men (66%).

Job development

Age and sector seem to play a role in relation to job development. For instance, 41% of employees over 50 years of age have not experienced any job development within the previous two years, whereas the proportion among the under-30s is 29%.

The report indicates that fewer employees in the public sector (30%) benefit from job development compared with employees in the private sector (39%).

The employees with the highest incomes and qualifications also enjoy the highest level of participation in supplementary training. For instance, 86% of highly educated white-collar workers have participated in some form of training in the past two years, compared with just over half (52%) of unskilled workers.

Reactions from the social partners

Among the employee organisations, some of the larger labour unions, representing mainly low-income groups, have reacted strongly to the lack of job autonomy among their members. For instance, the Danish General Workers’ Union (Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark, SID) and the Danish Food and Allied Workers’ Union, (Nærings- og Nydelsesmiddel Forbundet, NNF) have announced that the inequalities in job autonomy will be included in the next round of collective bargaining discussions.

For their part, the Danish Employers’ Association (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) has responded by stating that the differences reported between different workplaces and income groups reflect the fact that flexibility in working hours has been generally increasing in recent years.

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