Quality of work and employment

The European Commission’s Employment in Europe 2003 report examines the subject of quality of work. In relation to this topic, it identifies relevant indicators and labour market dynamics, such as flexible working arrangements. Overall, it finds that quality of work did not improve significantly across the EU Member States in the period 1996-2000.

Job security, access to training, career development and pay are identified as key indicators for assessing quality of work. According to these indicators, four types of jobs can be distinguished: dead-end jobs, low pay/low productivity jobs, jobs of reasonable quality and jobs of good quality.

In the EU Member States, 75% of jobs fall into the good or reasonable quality range. The Employment in Europe 2003 report found little or no significant change in the overall quality of work during the period under review (1996-2000).

Labour market

National variations in employment performance are due to differences in the quality of work and labour market dynamics in each country. The standard measure of employment performance - the employment rate - can hide very different labour market patterns over time.

Transition patterns vary considerably across EU Member States. The average transition rate from low to high quality employment increased slightly, from 24.5% in the mid 1990s to 25.5% at the end of the decade. In the same period, the transition rate from low quality employment into unemployment decreased from 8.5% to 7.1%.

In France, Germany, Spain and the UK, most unemployed people taking up employment move into low quality jobs. However, in Austria and Denmark and Ireland, the majority move into permanent, high quality jobs.

Temporary employment

The report’s analysis of temporary employment is restricted to fixed- or short-term contracts and excludes temporary agency work. Readers are recommended to consult the Foundation’s report Temporary Agency Work in the European Union for data about this category of employment.

The report shows that temporary employment can be a stepping stone towards long-term employment of high quality, but there are often disadvantages in terms of job security, remuneration and training.

In most EU Member States, more than half of temporary employees succeeded in progressing to more stable contractual employment arrangements. However, in Germany and Spain, a significant 10% moved from temporary employment into unemployment and a further 10% became inactive.

Working time

Findings with regard to working time include the following:

  • In the acceding and candidate countries, standard weekly working hours are between one to four hours above the EU average. Similar results were revealed in the Foundation’s Working conditions in acceding and candidate countries survey. The average length of the working week is also significantly higher, at 48 hours or more per week.
  • More than 10% of employees in EU Member States work overtime. In countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, half or more of all employees working overtime are not paid for it.
  • Shift work is quite common in the EU Member States, but is particularly widespread in the acceding and candidate countries, where more than 25% of employees are usually or sometimes working shifts.
  • In Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, a third or more of all employees work outside core hours. It is generally more common in manual or low-skilled services sector jobs.
  • Working time flexibility - in terms of the length of the working week - is generally higher in the EU Member States than in the acceding and candidate countries. However, only 25% of all employees enjoy flexitime in terms of the start and end time of their working day. In France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK, 50% or more of all employees benefit from some form of flexible working time arrangements, whereas in Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia, fewer than 10% of employees have this possibility.
  • Although part-time work is more prevalent among women employees in all countries, flexible working arrangements are less common for women who are in full-time employment.

Future developments

The Employment Guidelines 2003 (pdf file) propose a range of measures on working time arrangements, work organisation, access to training and career progression.

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