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Workplace inequalities have gone up “significantly” across Europe because of the global financial crisis, affecting primarily temporary and low-skilled workers, women and young people, claims Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
A senior adviser for wage polices at the ILO, Mr Whitehead says, in a recently published study funded by the European Commission that “Not only did work inequalities contribute to generating the economic crisis, but these inequalities have actually worsened as a result of it. Our general economic system will thus continue to be at risk until we properly address this critical issue.”
The study says that the need to tackle work inequalities is high as working conditions, wages and incomes, employment and gender equality have been “deteriorating” across Europe since the economic crisis hit the world. Analysing data from 30 countries, the study showed that discrepancies in pay between the top and the bottom earners went up in most European countries, particularly in Bulgaria, Hungary and, surprisingly, in the United Kingdom.
Those most affected by workplace inequalities include temporary workers who, functioning as “a sort of employment buffer”, were hit harshly by job cuts. The study shows that for instance in Spain “90% of employment losses affected temporary workers. But this happened also in France and other European countries.”
The report emphasises that countries such as Spain which have heavily relied on “external flexibility adjustments… have 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.” Work inequalities could also be increased by the new labour reforms which cut social protections in Spain, the report argues.
“In the longer term, the crisis may also halt progress made in Europe towards better quality jobs and working conditions. For instance, reductions in spending on training at the enterprise level combined with reduced training programmes financed by the state will have a negative effect in the long term.”