Deteriorating work environment for LO women

Work environment LO’s report Work Environment 2012, which was presented in late June, shows that differences in work environment are increasing in terms of class and gender. Work environment is more and more deteriorating for blue-collar workers. Those who suffer from the most deteriorated work environment are female workers.

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Prerequisites for being able to work until retirement, in good health and with a satisfactory income throughout working life, deteriorated rapidly during the 1990s. The largest decline was experienced by blue-collar workers, especially women. This trend has continued. Today we can see increased demands and stress at work, at the same time as workers’ influence declines.

The LO report shows that merely one in three blue-collar female workers work only weekdays during the daytime. One in five blue-collar workers has a precarious solo work. The proportion of blue-collar workers who feel exhausted every week was approximately 70 percent in 2012. The proportion of blue-collar workers with back pain was higher in 2012 than previously.

A modern labour market should provide a better work environment, but nearly all indicators point in the wrong direction. And it is worst for female blue-collar workers. This is an entirely unacceptable development that we must take very seriously, says Torbjörn Johansson, LO Negotiating Secretary.

It is a vicious circle. The proportion of exhausting jobs is increasing and there are few people who can endure a full working life without retiring prematurely. This in turn results in inferior pensions, which yields less tax revenues, explains Torbjörn Johansson.

I am particularly concerned about the fact that occupational health service is deteriorating for those who need it most. Only 11 percent of blue-collar female workers in the private sector have been in contact with occupational health system in recent years. And it is those women who have the worst work environment. The world has turned upside down. I ask myself why employers cut down on these, usually minor, expenses. They should instead see it as an investment in their employees, maintains Torbjörn Johansson.

The report shows five ways to achieve a better work environment: joint wage policy, collective agreements on work environment, co-operation between the social partners, an enhanced occupational safety and health act, a stronger work environment authority and improved research into working life.

The main findings of the report include the following:

Blue-collar workers and low-level white-collar workers are today equally vulnerable in the labor market and the gap between those and high-level white-collar workers increases.

More jobs consist of only a few simple working operations. The proportion of blue-collar workers who constantly repeat the same working operation has increased, and in 2012 it reached between 55 and 60 percent.

In 2012 the proportion of blue-collar workers exhausted every week was around 70 percent. The percentage of blue-collar workers with back pain was higher in 2012, while the percentage of those with shoulder and arm pain was lower.

Work is often intense. For example, more than 70 percent of blue-collar female workers in the public and private services have very little opportunity to take a short break.

While the requirements of the work have increased, workers’ influence has decreased. The largest decline was faced by female blue-collar workers, followed by female low-level white collar workers and then by male blue-collar workers.

The so-called 24-hour society is carried by female blue-collar workers. Merely one in three female blue-collar workers works only weekdays during the daytime.

To work alone and risk being subjected to threatening situations is a class issue. One in five blue-collar workers says he/she has a risky solo work, and the risks increase when working at irregular times. Among blue-collar workers in the public sector, 35 to 40 percent have been victims of threats or violence in 2012.

Access to occupational health system continued to decline in 2012, mostly for blue-collar workers in the public sector. Blue-collar female workers in the private service sector still have least access to occupational health services. In 2012, only 11 percent of those stated that occupational health service representatives visited or otherwise assessed their workplaces.


Christina Jonsson
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