High levels of stress among sales workers and cashiers
In July 2006, the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (SEK) published a study on the subject of workplace health and safety, and the balance that women manage to achieve between family and working life. The study focused on women who are employed as sales workers, cashiers or clerks. Overall, one third of the women surveyed were not familiar with health and safety legislation, although an increased proportion of the women were aware of legislation regarding pregnancy and maternity leave. Significant obstacles remain in relation to reconciling work and family life.
On 19 July 2006, the Department of Safety, Health and Environment and the Working Women’s Department of the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (Συνομοσπονδία Εργαζομένων Κύπρου, SΕΚ) published a nationally representative study entitled Safety and health in the workplace: Reconciliation of family and work. The study’s conclusions were based on personal interviews in the workplace, conducted on a random sample of 600 working women aged 18–65 years who are employed as sales workers, cashiers and clerks. The research examined issues of safety, health and work–life balance.
Based on the study findings, 67% of workers in the sample were aware of the legislation on health and safety, while 33% admitted that they had no knowledge of it. Workers in financial organisations and trade union members were most knowledgeable in this regard, at rates of 79% and 77% respectively. Conversely, women employed in supermarkets or department stores were less knowledgeable, at a rate of only 61% of awareness. Some 64% of non-union members were familiar with the legislation.
Health and safety issues
The study also examined the issue of workplace ergonomics, which is of particular interest to the social partners in Cyprus. According to the study, 50% of working women suffer from pain in the neck, back and extremities. The problem is greater among women who work in supermarkets or department stores and in financial organisations, mainly due to their standing position, long working hours and lack of proper equipment, such as ergonomic chairs and workstations.
As regards carrying heavy loads, 67% of the women surveyed acknowledged that carrying heavy loads is a usual practice in supermarkets and department stores. Female workers who are not trade union members appear to engage to a greater extent in this activity, in other words, they carry more heavy loads than union members.
One important issue emanating from the conclusions of this study is the problem of workplace stress. Overall, one out of two women surveyed experienced stress at work. The percentages of working women who answered ‘yes’ to problems of work-related stress were as follows: 80% of workers in financial organisations, 49% of workers in supermarkets or department stores, and 46% of workers in small shops. The main causes of such stress, according to this study, are large volumes of work (70%), low pay (32%) and extensive responsibilities (12%).
Among the most important issues facing working women – which often force them to leave the labour market – are their family responsibilities and, specifically, care of their children.
According to the conclusions of the study, 76% of those questioned are fully aware of their rights in the event of pregnancy and maternity leave. Similar findings in 2000 showed the figure to be around 55%, and this upward trend appears to be a result of the constant awareness campaigns carried out by the trade union organisations in particular. Indeed, in May 2005, this increased awareness led to a complaint to the Equality Authority of the Ombuds Office, which in its subsequent report noted discrimination against female casual employees in the public sector in relation to current regulations on maternity leave (CY0507101N).
Of equal importance is the finding that 80% of respondents in the 18–44 year age group were in favour of increasing maternity leave up to 33 weeks. One surprising fact was that only 30% of the sample were familiar with parental leave, and this proportion had not changed since the study in 2000.
Another significant issue involves taking children to and from school and kindergarten. A total of 55% of working women stated that they face problems in this regard due to school hours as well as their own working hours.
The lack of suitable childcare infrastructure has a negative impact on the reconciliation of family and work, and entails adverse effects for society as a whole. At the same time, failure to reconcile family and working life is the main factor contributing to increased stress at work; one of the priorities for all of the trade union organisations is to combat such stress.
At the same time, the study has drawn general conclusions for the attention of relevant parties. The following findings are characteristic examples:
- The lack of suitable infrastructure forces many women to leave the labour market, with all of the social and financial implications that entails.
- Reconciliation of family and working life is a necessary precondition for every modern society and requires close cooperation between all of the social partners.
- Workers should be constantly updated on the provisions of legislation in relation to issues concerning their health and safety in the workplace.
- The trade unions play an important part in improving working conditions and preventing occupational accidents and diseases.
For more information at European level, see the EWCO topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).
Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)