New European Job Quality Index to monitor job quality

In 2008, the European Trade Union Institute for Research, Education and Health and Safety created a European Job Quality Index. The index aims to contribute to the debate about ‘more and better jobs’ in Europe, providing a framework for a more comprehensive assessment of the nature of job quality in Europe. At the same time, the European Job Quality Index is designed to monitor changes in employment over time and allow for a comparison between European countries.

The European Union’s Lisbon Strategy, launched in 2000, aims to create ‘more and better jobs’. Although some progress has been achieved in bringing more Europeans into paid employment, evidence seems to be emerging that many of the new jobs being created are ‘bad jobs’. Workers are increasingly being asked to work longer and/or unsocial hours, as well as to accept forms of atypical work. Thus, the question arises whether ‘more jobs’ has been at the cost of ‘better jobs’.

Need for a European Job Quality Index

In order to respond to this question, the European Trade Union Institute for Research, Education and Health and Safety (ETUI-REHS) identified the need to establish an ‘indicator of job quality that is comprehensive, comparable, European in scope and timely’. The ETUI-REHS has therefore developed a European Job Quality Index (JQI) which should provide a framework for assessing in a more comprehensive way the nature of job quality in Europe. The job quality index aims to monitor changes in jobs over time and allow for a comparison between European countries in this regard.

In 2008, ETUI-REHS published a working paper on Putting a number on job quality? Constructing a European Job Quality Index, which outlines the choice of data and variables used, as well as the data processing, for establishing the JQI. Furthermore, the paper details a number of important data restrictions and caveats which need to be taken into account when interpreting the results of the JQI.

Measuring job quality

The introductory part of the ETUI-REHS working paper offers an overview of existing work in the field, referring in particular to the:

The development of a European JQI seeks to fill a gap in the existing literature: the new index is expected to enable ‘comparison both over time and between European countries, using a broad but focused conceptualisation of job quality that can be updated at regular intervals’ (ETUI-REHS, 2007, p. 7).

A multi-dimensional phenomenon

The research identifies six different fields that are considered to be important for assessing job quality. Every field of job quality is made up of at least two and a maximum of four indicators.

Job quality indicators

The most important field in relation to job quality is that of wages, as they not only influence people’s current income situation but, in the longer term, also their social security benefits and pensions. The second field relates to non-standard forms of employment. The JQI has to take into account the incidence of such forms of employment, since previous research has shown that they are problematic in job quality terms, especially when they are exercised involuntarily. Another field is working time and work-life balance. This field is made up of four indicators: excessive working hours, atypical working hours, voluntary part-time employment and the proportion of workers who agree that their working hours fit family and social commitments. The fourth field covers working conditions and job security. In this instance, the indicators used are work intensity, work autonomy, physical work factors and the likelihood of job loss within the next six months. The fifth field in terms of job quality relates to skills and career development, with the aim of capturing workers’ opportunities to develop their skills and enjoy progressive career development. The last field is collective interest representation and voice, which is known to be conducive to job satisfaction.

The EWCS is one of the main sources used by the ETUI-REHS research: in four out of the six fields, indicators were taken from the survey carried out by Eurofound. In particular, the EWCS was used in the fields relating to working time and work–life balance, working conditions and job security, skills and career development, and collective interest representation and voice.

Commentary

The European JQI aims to contribute to the debate about ‘more and better jobs’ in Europe. The JQI will be calculated annually for individual EU Member States and for the EU27 as a whole. The added value of this initiative relates to its ability to provide for a comparative, regularly updated index according to a number of identical dimensions for all of the European countries.

Volker Telljohann and Francesca Sbordone, Institute for Labour Foundation, Bologna

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