David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Stress at work

The Caithness Courier, October 2014

Stress is now one of the biggest causes of absence from work in the European Union (EU). According to a recent report one quarter of the citizens of the EU risk health problems due to stress and the report points to monotonous and repetitive tasks to be the blame. Irregular working hours also are believed to have a negative impact on workers’ well-being. 

The situation, however, varies across the EU. Croatia, Estonia, and Bulgaria have the highest number of workers in Europe who perform monotonous and repetitive jobs with almost sixty five per cent of their labour force involved in such tasks every day. Most of them are plant and machine operators, work in craft and related trades or have elementary occupations.

The findings of the report also show that due to the economic crisis people are being forced to work longer hours and accept irregular schedules. This affects their work-life balance and risks their health and well-being.

With more than 24 million unemployed across the EU, according to Eurostat, temporary and short-term workers are, in particular, more exposed to the stress caused by job insecurity.  EU citizens employed in elementary occupations, operators and skilled workers in industry and construction have the highest level of job insecuritys. On the other hand, managers and highly-skilled professionals feel they have a lot less to fear regarding the security of their positions.

The study puts forward a few recommendations on how to diminish this stress on the EU work force: ‘Research shows that the role of social dialogue and social partners is relevant to raise awareness and implement interventions’.
For instance, at the company level, the employers, together with the trade unions, can negotiate and develop measures to achieve a work-life balance, offer training to improve workers’ competences, and establish rotating jobs programmes within the company.

But while these initiatives could work in one country, or for one company, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Evidence shows that policies are not developed to the same extent in all European countries. This can be explained by the different traditions of social dialogue and different governmental approaches, often related to the importance the country gives to the associated risks.

In the main, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often find it difficult to adopt the same measures as big companies due to lack of resources and expertise. This leaves at risk a high number of people, as almost half of EU workers have a job with an SME. 

At the policy level, the report recommends that EU countries implement prevention measures through legislation, as some countries already have. Austria, for example, changed its labour legislation last year to include ‘psycho-social’ risks as a potential cause of harm to the health of workers.

While the research says that many Member States made progress in adopting preventative measures, gaps in legislation still exist, and social partners are not always involved in the process.  I believe an EU wide approach is needed.

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