Worker satisfaction survey highlights divide between old and new European states

European workers are satisfied with their working conditions, due largely to improved job security, a positive working atmosphere and good opportunities to learn and grow, major research has shown.

However, working conditions vary considerably between individual member states, between ‘old’ and ‘new’ states and also between sectors, women and men, and different age groups, according to the first findings of the fourth European Working Conditions Survey show.

The services sector continues to grow in importance in the European labour market, employing about 66% of workers in the 25 EU member states and in Bulgaria and Romania, the two EU candidate countries.

The percentage of workers employed in both manufacturing and agriculture is declining, with manufacturing now accounting for 29% of employment and agriculture just 5%. The proportion of workers who use computers at least a quarter of the time in Europe has increased from 31% in 1991 to 47% in 2005.

There has been a consistent decline over the past 15 years in the number of workers who consider their health and safety to be at risk because of their work, from 31% in 1991 to 27% in 2005. There are, however, big differences between the former EU15 countries (25%) and the new member states (40%).

Jorma Karppinen, director of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, which carried out the survey, said: “These first results show that although there is a definite scope for increasing productivity in Europe, policymakers are continuously challenged to reach the goals of improved employment levels and quality of work as laid out in the Lisbon criteria.

“A majority of European workers report that work is interesting and offers new opportunities to learn, but access to training has not increased, particularly not for older workers, which indicates slow growth in life-long learning initiatives,” Karppinen said.

The proportion of workers whose immediate boss is a woman has consistently increased over the last decade. In the 10 new member states, the proportion of female managers is higher than in the EU15 (29% as against 24%).

But the pay gap between men and women shows no signs of closing, with about half of all women in the EU25 countries firmly positioned in the lower third of the overall income scale.

Some four out of five workers (80%) said they were satisfied with their work-life balance, although 44% of those working long hours – over 48 hours a week – reported being unhappy with their work-life balance. Men, particularly working fathers, report more dissatisfaction with their work-life balance than women.

The European Working Conditions Survey is conducted every five years. Interviews were carried out in late 2005 with nearly 30,000 workers in 31 countries.

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