Job quality of concern to all workers

A joint ILO-Eurofound report covering about 1.2 billion of the world’s workers found stark differences in working hours, significant levels of intensive and emotionally demanding work and that the least-educated have worse overall working conditions and fewer opportunities to develop their skills.

Working conditions in a global perspective , provides the first comparative analysis of job quality surveys carried out in 41 countries, mainly over the last five years. It covers the EU28, China, the Republic of Korea, Turkey, the United States, Spanish-speaking Central America, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

It looks at seven dimensions of job quality: the physical environment, work intensity, working time quality, the social environment, skills and development, prospects, and earnings.

Main findings:

Working time differences are stark across countries, with one-sixth of workers in EU countries working more than 48 hours per week, while in the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Chile around half of workers do so. Across the countries surveyed, at least 10 per cent of workers work during their free time.

Over 70 per cent of workers in the Republic of Korea are able to take an hour or two off work to take care of personal and family matters. This compares with 20-40 per cent of workers in the US, Europe and Turkey.

Intensive work – with tight deadlines and high-speed work – are experienced by one-third of workers in the EU and half in the US, Turkey, El Salvador and Uruguay. Some 25-40 per cent or workers have jobs with emotional demands.

Regardless of the country, the least-educated get less access to opportunities to grow and develop their skills. The proportion of workers who report learning new things at work varies between 72 and 84 per cent in the US, the EU and Uruguay, but the proportions are lower in China (55 per cent), Turkey (57 per cent) and the Republic of Korea (30 per cent).

Exposure to physical risks is frequent. More than half of workers said they are exposed to repetitive hand and arm movements. About one-quarter reported frequent exposure to high temperatures at work, and almost as many said they were frequently exposed to low temperatures.

Across the countries, women earn significantly less than men and are overrepresented at the lowest end of the earnings distribution.

Up to 12 per cent of workers said they were subjected to verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, bullying, unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment.

Job insecurity is widespread across countries, with at least 30 per cent reporting being in a job without career prospects.

Around 70 per cent of workers gave a positive assessment of their managers’ performance in managing them, and report high levels of social support from colleagues (though with some country exceptions).

The report stresses that job quality can be improved by reducing excessive demands on workers and limiting their exposure to risks. It also highlights the importance of a positive social environment at work, including a supportive management and colleagues, as well as social dialogue for improving job quality.

The ILO and Eurofound also called on countries across the world to develop working conditions surveys which include comparable data on job quality, saying this is vital in order to identify issues of concern and provide evidence for policy action.

“Good working conditions contribute to the well-being of workers and the success of enterprises,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Workquality Department . “Understanding the issues that affect the well-being and productivity of working women and men is a critical step towards achieving decent work for all. This is particularly true at a time when new technologies and new forms of work organization are reshaping the world of work.”

“Job quality can be improved – by reducing excessive demands on workers and limiting their exposure to risks – and also by increasing their access to work resources that help in achieving work goals or mitigating the effects of these demands,” said Juan Menéndez-Valdés, Eurofound’s Executive Director. “Workers and employers and their organizations each have a role to play in improving job quality.”