New reports on key jobs were presented at a joint event of Eurofound and the International Labour Organisation. It became clear that the social undervaluation of essential work, on which we all depend, requires action. A re-evaluation of this work and more investment, especially in the health infrastructure, are crucial. The working conditions of these jobs must improve significantly.
Jobs that keep our system running are often invisible. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, awareness of the high relevance of these jobs and society's appreciation of them has increased slightly. The pandemic has made it clear how much we depend on essential workers. Nevertheless, the majority of their work is still poorly paid. There is a shortage of labour and many jobs do not longer attract the interest of future generations. Not least in view of further possible crises, the situation regarding key jobs is a cause for concern.
Urgent need to improve working conditions
Under the title “How to ensure decent work and job quality for essential workers”, concrete measures to improve working conditions in key jobs were discussed at a joint event of Eurofound and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). While a new ILO Report deals with key jobs in general, the new Eurofound Publication exclusively focuses on working conditions during the pandemic.
At the start of the event, Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, drew attention to shortcomings in the care sector, where the shortage of labour is particularly noticeable. On the one hand, demographic change is reducing the number of available carers, while the need for qualified care workers is increasing on the other. Poor working conditions and low social esteem result in fewer and fewer people choosing care work. The Commissioner points out: "We live in a society where people who manage our money are valued more than people who take care of our children.”
ILO study points to low pay and other shortcomings
The ILO report "The value of essential work" defines, which jobs are rated as key. The basis for this is the national classification of those jobs that were exempt from restrictions during the pandemic. A total of 52 percent of employees worldwide are considered key workers. These people operate in a variety of sectors, such as food production, transport, administration or health care.
The report shows that it had been exactly this group of people that experienced higher mortality rates during the pandemic. Overall mortality was particularly high in the transport sector, where workers suffered from a particularly low level of health protection. On the whole, people in key jobs are affected by an increased health risk in any case. Moreover, they are disproportionately often employed on fixed-term employment contracts. Long and irregular working hours, low pay and a below-average level of trade union organisation also illustrate the picture. The study also shows an unexplained gap between the wages of key and non-key workers of about 9 percent. This once again highlights the level of social undervaluation regarding the work of employees in key jobs.
Concrete measures needed at several levels
The International Labour Organisation recommends the following measures to improve working conditions for key workers: safe and healthy workplaces for all workers regardless of employment status, equality of treatment and other safeguards for all contractual arrangements, safe and predictable working hours, wages that reflect workers' contribution to society, universal social protection including paid sick leave, training opportunities, and investment in health and long-term care.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, AK has also demanded concrete measures to improve working conditions for key jobs. Regarding employees who travel to work in another EU country, there is an urgent need for digital access to social security in order to avoid social dumping. Especially in the transport sector or in care for the elderly, employees often do not work in their home countries, but across borders or in another state. In a Position Paper on the European Care Strategy, AK also demands Europe-wide minimum standards for working conditions in long-term care and health care.
Eurofound: How to ensure decent work and job quality for essential workers
AK EUROPA: Free movement of critical workers: regulations in need of improvement
AK EUROPA Position Paper: European Care Strategy
A&W Blog: Key and yet disadvantaged in the workplace (German only)
A&W Blog: Missed Nursing Care: much more than a shortage of care workers (German only)
ILO Report: The value of essential work
Eurofound Policy Brief: Job quality of COVID-19 pandemic essential workers