Communiqué January 2006


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Catering for better working conditions

Working conditions in the hotels, restaurants and catering sector in the EU are characterised by low wages, long hours, poor career structures and often weak enforcement of equality policies. High staff turnover, high levels of absenteeism and poor commitment discourages employers from investing in staff, according to new research published by the European Monitoring Centre on Change (EMCC) in its Sector Futures series.

The 7.5 million workers in Europe’s hotels and catering sector have seen their fair share of changes and challenges in the past, and the first of three EMCC Sector Futures articles on the sector does not envisage a much brighter future. Some of the changes result from the inevitable effects of globalisation, enlargement and low-cost travel, encouraging the flow of migrant workers, and others are the consequence of changing lifestyles, more informed and flexible customers, the ageing workforce, and stricter legislation and human rights awareness. The growth and development of Europe’s hotel and catering sector depends largely on the uptake of new technology: greater overall use of information technology and new kitchen and production technologies.

Micro-enterprises predominate

Europe’s hotel and catering sector is dominated by small enterprises. Despite the success of chains and franchises, more than 90% of firms are micro-enterprises, with 10 or fewer employees. These generated over 40% of the sector’s turnover and employed almost half its workforce in 2001.The labour force is much younger and less skilled than that of other sectors, with a higher percentage of women workers: in 2004, women accounted for 55% of jobs. However, most senior positions are held by men.

The sector embraces hotels, restaurants, camping sites, youth hostels, fast-food outlets, take-aways, pubs, canteens, and catering. Over half of the sector’s enterprises in 2001 were in France, Italy and Spain, and the sector is generally considered to be underdeveloped in the new Member States.

Huge challenges ahead

The sector has been under pressure by recent legislation on consumer and human rights, working conditions and the marking, quality and safety of food. Small businesses find it hardest to conform to the new legislation. With the growth in health problems like diabetes and obesity, it is thought that health-related taxes on food may be introduced. However, it is generally acknowledged that the smoking ban introduced in some countries has improved overall conditions for workers and customers.

On a broad scale, the sector is challenged by globalisation which can involve an influx of better-skilled labour from other countries, hence operating as a threat to existing workers. Also, while low-cost air travel brings more tourists and migrant workers, it also leads to stiffer competition.

Positive signs of development

There are, however, some positive signs of development in the sector. EU enlargement offers a larger labour pool with lowering employment costs. Closer to the day-to-day operation of the sector, information technology is heralded as a tool for better resource management and flexibility. While the Internet has already had a profound effect on the sector, the downside is that security fears are hindering online bookings. New kitchen and production technologies are a positive development but these can lead to outsourcing, with negative effects for workers.

Read the full report on the EMCC website

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