globalWorking conditions are deteriorating in Europe, helping to reinforce social inequalities between workers -- particularly in terms of health, according to presenters at a recent European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) seminar in Brussels.

The two-day event in late March unexpectedly attracted participants from beyond the research community, proof, says the ETUI, that even at a time of economic crisis, the question of working conditions remains a major social issue.

From the ETUI: "Despite the fall in industrial employment over the past twenty years, physical risks (noise, vibrations, extreme temperatures, exposure to dust, etc.) are not decreasing, and still affect more than 20% of workers in Europe, according to the 2010 European working conditions survey.

"The first results of a French survey indicate that this intensification of work is being accompanied by workers’ dissatisfaction with the conditions under which they carry out their work, with more and more workers complaining of not having enough time to do their work properly. The impact of psychosocial factors on the way in which workers perceive their health is equally explored in Belgian research which indicates that only one third of workers performing emotionally demanding work feel that they will still be able to do this work by the time they reach the age of 60.

"The deterioration in working conditions has a bigger impact on workers in companies low down in the value chain and more vulnerable and marginal workers in the productive process, according to research on young workers in Italy. Among these workers aged under 35, blue-collar workers with a lower level of education are more likely to suffer physical and psychological health problems than white-collar workers. A Spanish study drives the point home: the risk of poor mental health is close to 90 % among immigrant manual workers aged under 31.

"There is also a gender element that combines with the inequalities determined by a worker’s status, type of contract and employer: almost one third of female workers in Europe work over 70 hours per week if their paid work is added on to their domestic tasks."

Click here to view the surveys and papers presented at the seminar.