EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Quality in work and employment — Latvia

PDF version Printer-friendly version
  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 28 June 2007

Raita Karnite

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Quality of work and employment as a whole is not a key issue of activities of social partners, but related topics such as labour contract, security and work, pay, are. The quality of work and employment system is built on two cornerstones – legislation and its implementation and performance control. The first is responsibility of the Government; the second is responsibility of the State Labour Inspectorate. Social partners participate in producing of legislation acts and follow implementation and performance, but only in some issues they are initiators. In this employers are more active in promoting the “flexicurity” concept and new forms of employment relations, while trade unions tend to be more concerned by pay issues.

1. The importance of quality in work and employment

Employment is crucial aspect of economic development of Latvia due to several reasons:

  • low labour costs and flexible employment regime is seen as the main competitiveness advantage of Latvian economy,

  • up to now low labour costs were provided by low labour remuneration and a low level of spending on improvement of working conditions and even some neglecting of quality in work and employment rather than by high work productivity,

  • currently the economy faces significant structural changes towards industries that develop on the basis of intensive inflow of financial resources, namely financial intermediation services, operations in the real estate sector, and trade and building industry,

  • financial inflows (foreign direct investments, bank loans, EU funds) provide extremely fast economic growth (more than 10% annual growth) and good public finance conditions and thus encourages growth of wages and salaries in the state financed sectors, putting pressure on the wage situation in the private sector,

  • from the other side opening of the EU labour market for Latvia has promoted emigration of Latvians to other EU countries, that also puts pressure on the wage situation in private sector, other aspects of working conditions and labour availability in general,

  • in this way, the main competitiveness advantage has turned around - into an important factor that may undermine future economic development.

In these conditions, employees have demonstrated conflicting behaviour. Some workers have become more exigent in issues of quality in work and employment, and consequently these issues are becoming increasingly important for employers in order to secure workforce. Yet there are enough workers that accept poor quality in work in many aspects – from working without a work contract to working in dangerous conditions, long hours and without long term employment guarantees, that does not encourage employer to take care about improvement of quality in work and employment. The very critical issue is compliance with the labour law, in particular, working without a work contract.

The whole system as regards quality in work and employment is built on two cornerstones – legislation and its implementation and performance control. The legislation is the responsibility of the government, while the implementation and performance control is the responsibility of the State Labour Inspectorate (Valsts Darba Inspekcija, VDI).

Quality of work and employment as a whole is not a key concern of activities of social partners, but specific issues such as labour contracts, security at work, pay issues and others, are. Within this framework, the role of social partners may be characterised as follows.

Politicians are less concerned about quality in work and employment, because Latvian legislation in its labour legislation and special legislation package related to safety at work includes high norms in relation to work quality and employment. Latvian legislation includes five laws and 28 Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers and a long list of connected standards that are harmonised with EU principles. The package is not ideal, therefore improvements continue. The first legislation act was adopted in 1995, the last in 2006. The most critical issue is implementation of the adopted legislation. In many sectors employers are forced to compromise between better salaries and other aspects of work and employment quality.

Quality in work and employment is not the priority of trade unions, except pay issues. Nevertheless, trade unions support efforts to improve working conditions. Employers support concept of quality in work and employment, but they consider that costs of implementation of legislation norms are inappropriately high compared with any benefits that may arise.

Trade unions and employers organisations participate in a policy making process and elaboration of legislation through membership in working groups, expertises and public discussions, but they are initiators only in fields that traditionally are within their interest or are initiated by their members (for instance, discussions about the cost of safety at work from the employer side).

There is no evidence of the conflict between job creation and the pursuit of quality in work, and these two aspects are not complementary either. It is likely that these two aspects are not important in the current very turbulent economic situation characterised by lack of workforce and dramatic wage rises. In 2005 the real wage increase was 9.7% (the economic growth 10.2%). In first three quarters of 2006 the real wage grew by 11.3%, 14.5% and 15.4% respectively. In 2006 the employment rate grew to 61.8%. The unemployment rate dropped from 8.7% in third quarter of 2005 to 6.2% in the respective time in 2006. Rather, the conflict appears between requirements in the field of quality in work and the associated costs for fulfilling these requirements.

No doubt, the national debate on quality in work and employment issues follows policy discussions and developments at EU level, especially in the field of government actions. The government tries to introduce EU accepted norms of quality in work and employment in national legislation.

Employer’s organisations use EU level concepts that comply with interests of their members, for instance, the “flexicurity” concept.

Major activities of trade unions are related to pay issues. Latvia has the lowest salary levels between Baltic countries (in third quarter of 2006 the average gross monthly salary was EUR 434 in Latvia, EUR 479 in Lithuania and EUR 580 in Estonia); therefore pay issues are specific and less related to policy discussions and developments at EU level.

Some aspects of job quality are more important than others: adequate pay; security in terms of continuing employment; safety in terms of health and safety considerations.

Major initiatives taken by the social partners both separately and together are education in labour legislation issues with special emphasis on legal rights of employers, work contract and other. Social partners use mass media and special measures (information campaigns and information desks) to introduce more people to existing legislation and to teach them their rights.

2. Career and employment security

The concept of ‘flexicurity’ has entered the national debate on employment and social policies between politicians, trade unions and employers. The shift towards service industries and “mobile” businesses, like construction, promotes discussion on this topic. The debate has been underpinned by employers’ organisations. It is less discussed in the mass media.

The “flexicurity” concept is seen as a way to solve increasing labour market problems – lack of workforce in some places and unemployment in other, and to stop growth of labour costs. It might be helpful from a social policy point of view if it promotes employment in economically disadvantaged areas.

However, there are some technical and infrastructure constraints in order to make the “flexicurity” concept work in a proper way. It is dependent for example on development of the telecommunication network, the costs of telecommunication services and also transportation costs.

The risk of “flexicurity” concept becoming more of a verbal compromise between different interests is less compared with the risk of one-sided approach, in which the flexibility principle prevails over the security principle. The risk is real as far as the sympathies towards the “flexicurity” principle are connected with the wish to cut labour costs, which means not only to eliminate wage growth, but also to reduce costs on providing proper working conditions, for instance, by promoting home work. However it must be kept in mind, that besides these negative manifestations, the “flexicurity” principle provides much better possibilities for some parts of the population to be included (for example, disabled persons, students, etc.).

The debate on the “flexicurity” concept is at the very initial stage. It does not concern issues such as appropriate levels of unemployment compensation, or the need to link flexibility and security with increased investment in human resources in order to cope with structural change. It is understandable, since the purpose of implementation of new forms is to cut labour costs, and because up to now the voice of trade unions has not been heard in this discussion.

3. Health and well being

Despite restructuring of Latvia’s economy towards the service sector, physical work is predominant in some major sectors. In 2005, 48.6% of those employed in the national economy came from occupational groups (ISCO-88 classification) over group four - all including physical work.

Physical work dominates in growing industrial sectors – wood processing, construction. In both sectors working conditions do not provide secure work. They also have the highest level of accidents at work.

In leading services sectors, namely trade (28.7% of services), transport and storage (19% of services), health care, hotels and restaurants also physical work is widespread.

In other services (financial services, education, public administration) stress, sight problems, back and mobility problems and fatigue are typical health related problems.

Health and well being problems are on the agenda in mess media. The incentive to keep these issues on the agenda lies with the State Labour Inspectorate who is responsible for implementation and control on labour legislation and work conditions in Latvia. The State Labour Inspectorate publishes annual surveys, thus giving information about the situation in complying with the legislation, control measures and results, as well as about accidents at work.

The health and well being situation in the field of occupational diseases is investigated in the research unit with the Paula Stradina Clinical University (Professor Maija Eglite), on the basis of the Latvian State Register for Occupational Diseases. These investigations are used when developing legislation in the field of security at work.

The health of older workers has not been seen as an issue in relation to the debate about increasing the effective retirement age. It has been decided in the framework of the pension reform in 1995 that the effective retirement age will be increased from 55 years for women and 62 years for men to 65 years for both men and women. The debate about the health of older workers was active in the period of elaboration of the new pension system in 1995, but these arguments were not taken into account.

Workplace relations are discussed in general terms and also particular issues. Particular issues such as violence, harassment or abuse are addressed in legislation and therefore discussed in the parliament. Social partners participate in discussions, but their role is rather formal, because these issues are considered less pressing than others.

There is recognition that men and women may suffer from different work-related health problems. In some cases legislation provides different protection norms for men and women, for example in cases of moving heavy objects.

4. Skills development

The concept of life-long learning is traditionally accepted and developed both by government, education institutions and NGOs. It is seen as important in order to cope with continuous structural change. The government introduces education programmes for life-long learning through the Human Resources Development system and the System of Guidance and Counselling Services and its institutions – the State Employment Agency (Nodarbinātības Valsts Aģentūra, NVA), the Professional Career Counselling State Agency (Profesionālās Karjeras izvēles Valsts aģentūra, PKIVA) the Social Integration Centre (Sociālās Integrācijas Centrs, SIC) associated with the Ministry of Welfare and the Vocational Education Development Agency (Profesionālās Izglītības Attīstības aģentūra, PIAA) and the National Youth Initiative Centre (Nacionālais Jaunatnes Iniciatīvas centrs, NJIC), associated with the Ministry of Education and Science. The government cooperates with the social partners in the process of elaboration of life long learning concepts, institutional setting and measures. Programmes are funded by different EU structural funds.

Specifically from the social partners’ side, education and skills development is one of issues in collective bargaining. The public at large is very active in taking education courses and even obtaining several professional qualifications through higher education. Paid education system encourages education institutions to offer flexible study conditions (for instance, courses during holidays) in order to attract more students. There are no age limitations for study.

Within the adult education the most popular courses are languages, social sciences, business and law, economic education, IT, health and welfare professions and others.

The fact that demand for manual skills is falling and demand for non-manual skills rising, has been reflected in the type of support provided by the educational and training systems. The main study directions are languages, computer skills and book-keeping.

The government provides a wide spectrum of help for those most at risk of being left behind through active employment measures and career development systems. Active employment measures include occupational training, retraining and qualification raising measures for the unemployed, competitiveness-improving measures, measures for disadvantaged groups, and temporary paid public work. The career development concept ensures that education, career development and counselling services are free of charge and available to every person who wants to obtain education or wants to work. The target group of the career counselling services includes children at the school age, young people, unemployed and job seekers, disabled people and other.

Traditionally, all labour market issues are discussed among social partners. Social partners participate in working groups that develop legislation or policy documents, policy updates and evaluations. It is important that all social partners participate also in unformal debate, outside the traditional social dialogue format (National Tripartite Cooperation Council (Nacionālās trīspusējās sadarbības padome, NTSP)).

5. Work life balance

Recent investigations on working conditions and time use indicate that people in Latvia work long hours, are involved in several jobs and spend little time with their families. This is a general picture which includes several patterns. The work life balance strongly depends on the economic condition of particular family. Maintaining a balance between working life and life outside of work is difficult in workers families where people are forced to take several jobs, to work long hours for the sake of survival. It is more characteristic for low paid and low qualification jobs (e.g., in construction, services).

In enterprises with higher wage levels people do not have the same need to work overtime and they are able to enjoy a more normal work life balance.

Discussion about new working time arrangements is not on agenda. Latvian legislation stipulates normal work time 40 hours a week and in that way provides conditions for appropriate work life balance. In the field of legal employment long working hours are only possible by way of mutual agreement, and can not be forced. On the other hand, delegalisation of second work would be detrimental for large number of families and also for growing business. Therefore there are not the initiatives coming from employers, or joint initiatives of employees trade unions in the field of working time, except some special cases (railway, drivers, policemen).

Public policy is neutral in this field. The most important policy concern is about low birth rates and small families that is seen as a consequence of poor work life balance. In this regard gender and parenting policies are used and these include childcare arrangements. Latvian childcare arrangements are quite generous, and have increased in the last ten years. Latvia has a special ministry – Ministry of Children and Family Affairs which deals with parenting policies.

Long or ‘unsocial’ working hours are discussed in public. However it is not easy to find solutions. Even trade unions consider that long working hours are a specific feature of after the post-transition economy and it is too early to consider normalisation of working conditions for a great part of society. Moreover, in the current economic situation with high inflation (6.5-7%), and high prices of essential everyday goods and services, polarisation of population only increase, and problems do not become less. On this background, issues such as reasonable proximity to one’s place of work limiting the amount of time lost in travel are not considered important.

Annex – Country data

Place of work and work organisation EU27 LV
q11f. Working at company/organisation premises 72.8 78.7
q11g. Teleworking from home 8.3 13.7
q11j. Dealing directly with people who are not employees (e.g. customers) 62.4 55.1
q11k. Working with computers 45.5 30.9
q11l. Using internet/email for work 36.0 26.2
q20a_a. Short repetitive tasks of <1m 24.7 17.4
q20a_b. Short repetitive tasks of <10m 39.0 29.6
q20b_a. Working at very high speed 59.6 39.5
q20b_b. Working to tight deadlines 61.8 51.0
q21a. Pace of work dependent on colleagues 42.2 50.6
q21b. Pace of work dependent on direct demands from customers, etc. 68.0 56.7
q21c. Pace of work dependent on numerical production/performance targets 42.1 41.3
q21d. Pace of work dependent on automated equipment/machine 18.8 21.1
q21e. Pace of work dependent on boss 35.7 47.0
q22a. Have to interrupt a task in order to take on an unforeseen task 32.7 19.4
q24a. Can choose/change order of tasks 63.4 63.2
q24b. Can choose/change methods of work 66.9 74.4
q24c. Can choose/change speed of work 69.2 81.0
q25a. Can get assistance from colleagues if asked 67.6 85.7
q25b. Can get assistance from superiors/boss if asked 56.1 78.7
q25c. Can get external assistance if asked 31.6 42.3
q25d. Has influence over choice of working partners 24.2 28.8
q25e. Can take break when wishes 44.6 53.1
q25f. Has enough time to get the job done 69.6 80.2
q26a. Task rotation 43.7 53.7
q26b. Teamwork 55.2 69.2
q31. Immediate boss is a woman 24.5 31.1
Job content and training    
q23a. Meeting precise quality standards 74.2 71.5
q23b. Assessing quality of own work 71.8 83.9
q23c. Solving unforeseen problems 80.8 71.7
q23d. Monotonous tasks 42.9 39.6
q23e. Complex tasks 59.4 58.2
q23f. Learning new things 69.1 67.3
q25j. Able to apply own ideas in work 58.4 66.0
q27. Job-skills match: need more training 13.1 14.5
q27. Job-skills match: correspond well 52.3 54.6
q27. Job-skills match: could cope with more demanding duties 34.6 30.9
q28a1. Has undergone paid-for training in previous 12 months 26.1 22.0
Violence, harrassment and discrimination    
q29a. Threats of physical violence 6.0 4.3
q29b. Physical violence from colleagues 1.8 0.4
q29c. Physical violence from other people 4.3 5.1
q29d. Bullying/harassment 5.1 4.6
q29f. Unwanted sexual attention 1.8 1.1
q29g. Age discrimination 2.7 1.3
Physical work factors    
q10a. Vibrations 24.2 31.7
q10b. Noise 30.1 37.4
q10c. High temperatures 24.9 18.9
q10d. Low temperatures 22.0 27.7
q10e. Breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust, etc. 19.1 27.9
q10f. Breathing in vapours such as solvents and thinners 11.2 12.3
q10g. Handling chemical substances 14.5 16.5
q10h. Radiation 4.6 4.8
q10i. Tobacco smoke from other people 20.1 28.9
q10j. Infectious materials 9.2 11.3
q11a. Tiring or painful positions 45.5 48.5
q11b. Lifting or moving people 8.1 4.5
q11c. Carrying or moving heavy loads 35.0 41.4
q11d. Standing or walking 72.9 74.1
q11e. Repetitive hand or arm movements 62.3 59.1
q11m. Wearing personal protective clothing or equipment 34.0 40.8
Information and communication    
q30b. Consulted about changes in work organisation, etc. 47.1 54.5
q30c. Subject to regular formal assessment of performance 40.0 46.5
q12. Well-informed about health and safety risks 83.1 86.4
q32. Consider health or safety at risk because of work 28.6 49.1
q33. Work affects health 35.4 64.2
q33a_a… hearing problems 7.2 11.1
q33a_b... problems with vision 7.8 23.4
q33a_c... skin problems 6.6 11.2
q33a_d… backache 24.7 44.1
q33a_e… headaches 15.5 27.5
q33a_f… stomach ache 5.8 8.2
q33a_g… muscular pains 22.8 35.5
q33a_h… respiratory difficulties 4.7 8.6
q33a_i… heart disease 2.4 6.4
q33a_j...injury(ies) 9.7 16.5
q33a_k...stress 22.3 36.9
q33a_l...overall fatigue 22.5 45.7
q33a_m...sleeping problems 8.7 19.6
q33a_n...allergies 4.0 7.5
q33a_o...anxiety 7.8 21.8
q33a_p... Irritability 10.5 20.6
q35. Able to do same job when 60 58.2 53.9
q34a_d. Absent for health problems in previous year 22.9 23.9
q34b_ef. Average days health-related absence in previous year 4.6 4.1
Work and family life    
q18. Working hours fit family/social commitments well or very well 79.4 67.0
q19. Contacted about work outside normal working hours 22.1 30.8
ef4c. Caring for and educating your children every day for an hour or more 28.8 37.9
ef4d. Cooking and housework 46.4 61.3
Job satisfaction    
q36. Satisfied or very satisfied with working conditions 82.3 70.2
q37a_ef. I might lose my job in the next 6 months 13.7 19.0
q37b_ef. I am well paid for the work I do 43.2 31.6
q37c_ef. My job offers good prospects for career advancement 31.0 27.8
Structure of workforce    
q2d_ef. Seniority (mean years) 9.7 7.4
Working time    
q8a_ef. Mean usual weekly working hours 38.6 41.2
q8b. % usually working five days per week 65.1 68.5
q9a. % with more than one job 6.2 13.7
q13_ef. Daily commuting time (return, in minutes) 41.6 46.2
q14e_ef. Long working days 16.9 25.0
q16a_a. Work same number of hours each day 58.4 60.3
q16a_b. Work same number of days each week 74.0 72.0
q16a_c. Work fixed starting and finishing times 60.7 66.4
q16a_d. Work shifts 17.3 21.9
q17a. % with less flexible schedules 65.3 79.5
Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment

Click to share this page to Facebook securely

Click to share this page to Twitter securely

Click to share this page to Google+ securely

Click to share this page to LinkedIn securely