Workers show more interest in environmental issues

The Labour Ecobarometer 2007, conducted by the Institute for Labour, Environment and Health, highlights an important shift in the perception of workers in Spain regarding environmental issues. The results show that a large majority of workers favour a balance between production and employment, on the one hand, and environmental respect, on the other. This change in attitude reflects trends in societal awareness, as well as workplace developments.

About the survey

In May 2007, the Institute for Labour, Environment and Health (Instituto Sindical de Trabajo, Ambiente y Salud, ISTAS), established by the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO), carried out a study entitled Labour Ecobarometer 2007 (in Spanish, 260Kb PDF). The research is based on a survey among 600 workers in Spain concerning the expected impact of climate change on employment and other environmental and economy-related issues, such as renewable energy sources and policy, infrastructure and territory. The survey results were published in February 2008.

In terms of methodology, the survey was carried out by telephone interview at the home, using the computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) system. The 600-worker sample comprised 329 persons employed in the manufacturing sector, 85 persons in construction and 186 workers in the services sector. Overall, men represented 60.7% of the sample and women represented 39.3%. Some 27.8% of the workers were more than 35 years old, 45.3% were aged from 35 to 49 years and 26.8% were over 49 years of age. The study allowed for a 4.1% sample error.

Shift towards more responsible attitudes

The report highlights a significant shift in the perception of Spanish workers regarding environmental issues. A traditional perspective used to give paramount importance to productive activity and employment, regardless of environmental effects, and was somehow suspicious of related ecological questions. However, this attitude is clearly in decline, as only 7% of workers now support this viewpoint, which represents a reduction compared with previous research carried out by ISTAS in 2004–2005 and by CC.OO and the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT) in 1996 (Programa Optima. Programa de sensibilización medioambiental [Environmental awareness programme], Madrid, 1997).

Conversely, nowadays, 79% of workers hold a more civic and environmentally-conscious attitude, and are in favour of a balance between production and respect for the environment. Moreover, a group of environmentally proactive workers can be identified, who strongly support strict policies and enterprise programmes in this respect; these workers represent 14% of the total survey sample.

The report identifies differences in these proportions according to age and sex. Thus, younger workers and women show more ecologically-friendly attitudes than older and male workers.

Reasons for environmental consciousness

Causes of this change in the mentality and attitudes of the Spanish working population are twofold. On the one hand, this development is due to factors external to the work environment and more related to a general shift in social sensitivity towards climate change and environmental responsibility. On the other hand, the change is also due to factors which are related to personal work experience, both in terms of the possible impact of environmental issues on employment and of the relation between environmental risks and safety and health at work – for example, workplace pollution or handling of hazardous substances.

The figure below shows the perception of the workers surveyed regarding the negative effect of climate change on employment. Some 41.6% believe that it will have a significant negative impact and a further 40.1% consider that the negative impact will be of a medium level.

Negative impact of climate change on employment, according to Spanish workers (%)

Negative impact of climate change on employment, according to Spanish workers (%)

Source: ISTAS, 2008

Clearly, a majority of workers consider that climate change will have negative effects on employment: on a scale from 0 (no negative effect) to 10 (maximum negative effect), the survey result reaches an average of 6.12 points. This perception is stronger with respect to employment in agriculture (7.92 points) than in manufacturing (6.78) or tourism (6.43).

Expectations concerning companies


A great majority of workers (96.8%) agree that enterprises which do not fulfil environmental regulations should be sanctioned, and even that premises should be closed in cases of serious infringement – 88% agree with the latter statement. These results reflect a remarkable change with respect to previous studies, revealing an increased awareness towards ecological problems and how work and public health are linked to environmental quality. Concerns for employment creation and safeguarding jobs, which obviously still exist, are no longer the only criteria which Spanish workers take into account.

Employment implications

In terms of the risks of outsourcing and delocalisation, 72.7% of workers do not believe that environmental regulations encourage companies to leave the country in pursuit of more relaxed legislation. On the contrary, 42.5% of those surveyed consider that these regulations foster net employment creation, while 42.3% believe that regulations are neutral in this respect and only 15.2% of respondents fear that they could lead to job cuts. The study also found general agreement among the survey sample that renewable energy sources can entail new employment opportunities.

Practical environmental measures

Regarding environmental measures implemented by companies, 68.8% of the workers surveyed mention efficient use of water, 66.8% cite waste management and 66.5% refer to energy efficiency. Among the less common measures are a reduction in commuting to work (reported by 39% of the workers), substitution of toxic substances and products (49.5%), and use of cleaner production technologies (49.3%).

Expanded worker participation

Another important conclusion of the ISTAS study is that this new attitude of workers to environmental issues also means changes in the activity of employee representatives. Trade unions are now involved in monitoring enterprises’ environmental impacts and regulations, which implies related training needs and possible adaptations of the Workers’ Statute (in Spanish) to this new situation, allowing for new worker rights and competencies. Changes in employers’ behaviour are also required in terms of providing information and workers’ participation in decision making in this area of working life.

Antonio Corral, IKEI

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