Workers of the world face multiple challenges, says new report | Business | Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 06.05.2019

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Workers of the world face multiple challenges, says new report

As you might expect, there are big differences between the working conditions faced in El Salvador and Germany. Yet there are many common problems as well, says a new report on global working conditions.

A report on the working conditions of more than 1 billion workers around the world has found stark differences among those surveyed depending on where they live and their level of education.

"Working conditions in a global perspective"— a joint study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Eurofound, an EU agency — analyzed and compared working conditions in 41 different countries over the last five years.

It covers China, the USA, the EU28, South Korea, Turkey, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and six Spanish-speaking Central American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

The study looked at different elements of job quality, including the physical environment, work intensity and earnings.

Exposure to physical risks was a significant concern globally, with more than half the 1.2 billion workers surveyed exposed to repetitive hand and arm movements, as well as other hazards. The US is a particular risk area in this regard, with close to 80% exposed.

Around 20% are exposed to high temperatures during working hours, while another physical risk is exposure to biological or chemical hazards; around a quarter of workers in Turkey for example, are exposed to tobacco smoke, as well as ordinary smoke and dust, at their place of work.

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Women are disproportionately represented in lower-paid roles, the report finds

Gender imbalance in working conditions around the world is another finding. Across the countries profiled, women were overrepresented in the lowest rung of the earnings ladder.

Working worlds apart

"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," said Manuela Tomei from the ILO. "This is particularly true at a time when new technologies and new forms of work organization are reshaping the world of work."

The report found evidence of significant divergence across a range of working conditions, depending on the country.

For example, there were significant differences in the amount of hours worked. Around half of workers in China, South Korea and Turkey work more than 48 hours per week compared to around one-sixth in the 28 countries of the EU.

Another difference is in the proportion of workers who reported having opportunities to learn new skills at work. In the US, the EU and Uruguay, between 72% and 84% said they developed their skills at work, compared to lower rates for China (55%), Turkey (57%) and South Korea (30%).

Workers also face more intensive, deadline related pressures depending on where they live. Half of workers in the US say they work with tight deadlines compared with around one-third in the EU. Between 25% and 40% of workers worldwide say they have jobs with emotional demands.

Another area of significant difference was whether workers were permanent employees or were self-employed. The vast majority of workers surveyed in the EU (85%) and the US (90%) are employees, compared with rates of between 55% and 60% in China and several Central American countries.

Workers of the world united?

As much as the report highlights differences in working conditions faced across the world, it also identified several common issues.

Job insecurity is widespread, with around 30% of workers around the world reporting being in a job that had little to no career prospects. One in six EU workers reported this problem, while one in ten US workers worry they could lose their jobs within the next six months.

Another common theme was the fact that women face significant professional challenges across the world, particularly in the context of pay, with a disproportionate amount of women working in lower-paid roles compared with men.

In terms of employment rates, far more men are in employment than women across the countries surveyed. However, the gap in employment differed significantly across the countries. For example, the gap is relatively small in the US, China and the EU compared with Turkey and several Central American countries, where in some cases almost twice as many men as women are in employment.

Türkei Bergarbeiter

Turkish coal miners wait to return to the surface at a mine in Zonguldak. Around a quarter of Turkish workers reported exposure to smoke and dust during working hours.

In terms of abuse at work, around 12% of workers say they have been subjected to verbal abuse, humiliating behavior, bullying, unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment at work.

The news is not all bad though, with around 70 percent of workers reporting high levels of social support from managers and colleagues at work, and high levels of satisfaction with their immediate bosses.

Making things better

The report stresses that despite vast differences in the economic structures of the countries profiled, the 1.2 billion workers surveyed face many common challenges and concerns which can be tackled at a political level.

"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."

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