Africa-Press – Rwanda. The future of work is being influenced by several factors. In my previous articles we discussed the impact of digitalisation as well as the increased global competition for talent. These drivers are already influencing the world of work and I expect that these drivers of change will continue being key forces. This week, I will be focusing on another key driving force, the need by workers to enhance job quality.
Job quality is a multidimensional concept covering a wide range of factors which can include ‘soft’ characteristics that may be hard to define and quantify. However, as the concept has gained in prominence in the global ‘future of work’ debate, international organisations have intensified their focus in this area and put forward a few working definitions and frameworks to support and direct labour market research and policy formulation in this area. These frameworks are structured around indicators designed to provide a comprehensive assessment of employment quality. Although the specific approaches and indicators may vary, the frameworks advanced by the leading organisations share several core elements.
The OECD analysis in this area is based on a relatively simple framework structured around three broad elements; ‘earnings quality’, ‘labour market security’ (covering mainly unemployment risk and unemployment insurance), and ‘quality of the working environment’ (covering mainly physical health risk factors and working time) – in terms of both duration and flexibility; work autonomy; learning opportunities and opportunities for career advancement.
The ILO uses a set of ‘Decent Work’ Indicators covering ten main areas being: ‘employment opportunities’; ‘adequate earnings and productive work’; ‘decent working time’; ‘combining work, family and personal life’; ‘work that should be abolished’; ‘stability and security of work’; ‘equal opportunity and treatment in employment’; ‘social dialogue’; and ‘social security’.
Eurofound was one of the first organisations to prioritise job quality as a policy concern, launching the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) in 1991. This survey is based on a Working Conditions Monitoring Framework which measures job quality at the level of the job (as opposed to the workforce). It includes job features captured from an objective perspective which can be observed in terms of how far they meet people’s needs from work. The emphasis in this definition is on how the features of the job and the environment in which it is undertaken impact or interact with individual health and well-being. The Eurofound job quality model assesses jobs based on seven dimensions of job quality, integrating aspects of work that have a causal relationship on health and well-being. These are: ‘physical environment’; ‘work intensity’; ‘working time quality’; ‘social environment’; ‘skills and discretion’; ‘prospects’; and ‘earnings.’
Probably the most productive approach evident to date in this area is the collaboration between the ILO and Eurofound, bringing together the former’s ‘Decent Work Agenda’ and the EU’s ‘Quality of Work’ policy programme. In recent years Eurofound has partnered with the ILO to extend its ‘Working Conditions Monitoring’ framework beyond the EU to arrive at some global indicators of job quality – this took the form of the first ever global comparative analysis of job quality which covered approximately 1.2 billion workers. The most recent data was released in 2019.
The global findings that emerged in the ILO/Eurofound report are: • Exposure to physical risks remains unacceptably high, with over half of workers across regions and countries exposed to some form of risk, including high or low temperatures, repetitive movements or loud noise.
• Intensive work, such as tight deadlines and high-speed work, is experienced by one-third of workers in the EU and more than half the workers surveyed in other regions, particularly in advanced economies.
• Differences in working time across regions are significant: 15.0 per cent of workers in the EU work over 48 hours per week compared to proportions ranging between 40.0 per cent and 60.0 per cent in developing economies. Longer paid working times also often translate into longer unpaid working times, particularly for women: once unpaid work is considered women work longer hours than men across every region.
• In all countries and regions surveyed, the least educated get the least access to development and upskilling opportunities. The proportion of workers who report having such access is far higher in advanced economies such as the EU and the US (ranging between 72.0 per cent and 84.0 per cent) compared to emerging economies.
• Job insecurity is a concern in most countries, including those with advanced economies. One in six workers in the EU report this to be a concern.
• The survey highlighted the gender gap prevalent across all regions, particularly in terms of earnings. In the context of the megatrends described above, in the case of the EU there are two pressing issues driving the need to improve job quality:
• Demographic changes leading to a shrinking and ageing workforce: improvements in working conditions, including systematic training, and upskilling, support prolonged participation in the labour market.
• The rapid onset of technological change: although this development has the potential to improve working conditions and environments, particularly in terms of easing out dangerous and/or repetitive low-skilled tasks, it also carried the risk of alienating a whole cohort of lower-skilled workers.
A further aspect to keep in mind is the structural shift that has occurred in the European employment scenario in recent years, which has a very direct relationship with job quality. Since 2000, barring the 2008 financial crisis, employment in the EU has increased year on year. The greatest share of employment growth has been based on increased female participation, followed by a higher retention of older workers. Self-employment has decreased while the use of temporary contracts has risen substantially. Skill levels have increased, and the services sector has dominated, leading to changes in occupational distribution, with a far higher share of professionals in 2019 compared to 2000 and a reduction in the number of agricultural workers, craft workers and plant and machine operators.
The future of work is rapidly changing and will be having an impact on local firms, industries, and economies. It is therefore critical for countries to embrace these challenges and to develop future-proof employment policies and strategies.