Article

What the French working conditions surveys tell us

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Abstract

Since 1978, France's Ministry of Labour and the National Statistical Institute (INSEE) have carried out four large-scale sample surveys on working conditions among approximately 20,000 workers, questioned by survey-takers at home, that provide invaluable descriptive information on how work is changing. The last survey published was from 1998, and the 2005 survey is being processed at the time of writing. Taking a lead from this example among others, the European Commission tasked the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions to carry out similar surveys in EU countries in 1990, 1995, 2000, and now 2005. Between them, these surveys portray an alarming situation where workers are seeing their working conditions getting worse. Another survey using a different methodology, carried out by occupational doctors during health checks on 50,000 workers--the Sumer survey, from the French acronym for the health risk screening program--done for the Ministry of Labour in 1994 and 2003, points to the same general trends. In both France and the broader European Union (EU), physical demands and risks are not lessening, mental workload is growing, working hours are more diverse and less regular, work paces more demanding, compressed deadlines reduce job predictability and task discretion. . . . But at the same time, workers report having more leeway in discharging responsibilities that have expanded due to the rise in skill levels and new forms of work organization.

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