Working conditions in the retail sector under scrutiny

A new report from Eurofound shows how the transformation of the retail sector
in recent years, due to technological innovations and the increasing dominance
of large retailers, has affected career patterns, working conditions and
employment status. The comparative 'Working conditions in the retail sector'
report covers the EU27 countries and Norway between 2001 and 2010.

The retail sector is a significant part of the EU economy, accounting for about
4.2% of the EU's gross domestic product and 20% of European small and medium
enterprises (SMEs). Over the past decade, employment in the sector increased
from 17 million to over 19 million and it represented about 9% of total
employment in Europe in 2010, the new report shows. Large companies have been
growing whilst the small and micro businesses that once characterised the
sector in most countries have diminished. The report also illustrates a
significant decline in the number of self-employed and a substantial increase
in the number of part-time jobs and non-permanent contracts.

The sector remains one of the main entry gates to the labour market for young
people and a re-entry point for those who had left the labour market for
personal reasons, ie women giving up work to look after their children.

The considerable expansion of the sector is associated with changes in the
regulatory framework, a transformation in its competitive structure, and much
greater use of technology.

'Our report shows that the changes in the sector have affected career patterns,
offered new job opportunities, but also introduced some potential new risks to
employees' health, especially psychosocial ones. These play a crucial role in
the retail sector because of increasingly aggressive behaviour from third
parties, mainly customers,' says Juan Menéndez-Valdés, Eurofound's Director.
'Although a number of Member States continue the liberalisation process,
especially eastern countries and Italy, there are calls in other countries to
reverse this process because of risks in terms of social cohesion. Initiatives
by social partners seek to regulate flexibility and working time arrangements,
promote training, reduce the risk of robbery and enhance employee well-being.'

Social partners in several countries have promoted a number of initiatives
aimed at tackling new psychosocial risks. However, evidence shows that efforts
are still needed to facilitate the transition of part-time and non-permanent
workers to full-time and highly qualified job. Work accidents in the retail
sector are less frequent than in the overall economy. The main new risks are
anti-social behaviour, from verbal abuse to physical violence and robbery by
third parties, difficulties of reconciling work and life due to irregular
working schedule and increased intensification following the introduction of

'In conjunction with activities at national level, we have focused our efforts
at EU-level in trying to tackle the challenges of psychosocial risks in the
sector. Already in 2010, we agreed to a multisectoral approach and put
guidelines in place to tackle work-related third party violence and harassment,
involving all social partners representing the commerce sector, private
security, local governments, education and hospital sectors in Europe,' says
Christian Verschueren, EuroCommerce Director-General.

'In addition, in our social dialogue work programme for 2012-2013, we are also
committed to cooperating on stress at work, ergonomics, addressing skills
mismatch through the establishment of a European sector skills council,'
commented Oliver Roethig, UNI Europa Regional Secretary. 'As far as the issue
of part-time and fixed-term work are concerned, we intend to have an exchange
of views further to the publication of the European Commission impact
assessment study on the concerned directives due to be published next autumn.'

According to Eurofound's fifth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), 83%
of workers in the retail sector at EU level reported they were well-informed
about their risks at work and 86% considered their health and safety was not at
risk because of their work. However, the survey also found increased exposure
to ergonomic risk factors and that non-permanent workers are most exposed to
this kind of risk.

More information - Source: Eurofound