Workplace inequalities have increased significantly across Europe as a result of the global economic crisis, according to a new study published by the International Labour Office.

“Work Inequalities in the Crisis: Evidence from Europe” analyses how working conditions, wages and incomes, employment and gender equality, among other workplace issues, have been deteriorating across the continent since the start of the crisis. It includes data from 30 countries and 14 national studies by leading European specialists.

Other key findings include:

  • Workers on temporary contracts were badly affected by job cuts - in Spain about 90 per cent of employment losses affected temporary workers.
  • Young people are experiencing unemployment rates nearly double those among older workers in the majority of European countries, with sharp increases in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, as well as in Ireland, Spain and Greece.
  • Low-skilled workers were especially hard hit as manufacturing companies started to lay off members of staff.
  • Despite male workers being initially more affected by the crisis than women (six per cent more in the three Baltic states, Ireland and Spain), discriminatory practices against female workers have worsened over the past years.
  • Women employed in male-dominated sectors were the first to be dismissed, or experienced higher wage cuts than men.

The authors cite the significant role played by social dialogue in negotiating alternatives to layoffs generally through wage and / or working time reductions, as in Germany and France. In countries with limited wage bargaining such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, both employment and wage cuts were immediate and substantial.

The study also shows that countries that relied on temporary contracts, such as Spain, experienced severe difficulties on the employment front: “Massive reliance on temporary contracts for nearly 20 years has left the country vulnerable and employment has plunged in response to the economic slowdown”, the report said.

New labour market reforms to boost competitiveness, for instance the minimum wage freeze and cuts in social protection in Spain; the decision to multiply short time schemes in France; further wage moderation and an increase in the low pay sector in many countries may directly increase inequalities, according to the publication. A greater number of people will also become more vulnerable to future economic crises.

In the longer term, the study warns that the crisis may also halt the progress made in Europe towards better quality jobs and working conditions. For instance, it says reductions in spending on training at the enterprise level combined with reduced training programmes financed by the state will have a negative effect.