Irish workers more likely to be working without a contract than in most European countries

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 10:15

Maynooth University research charts the elements of a ‘low learning trap’ in the Irish labour market

Work-life balance worsening but still amongst best in Europe

The number of people in Ireland working without a contract is unusually high, according to new research from Maynooth University. Approximately one in eight (12.8%) Irish workers are working without a formal contract. Although this percentage has been declining, it is still far higher in Ireland than in the other countries of Western Europe, except Spain and Portugal.   

New Deals in the New Economy” is a European Research Council funded study of employment conditions across Europe led by Professor Seán Ó Riain from the Department of Sociology. The research results from analysis of the European Working Conditions Survey, which is based on a random sample of European workers.

The data also show that the various forms of precarious employment – fixed term contracts, agency working and working without a contract – are most common among young people, among service and production workers, and in very small firms. Workers without a third level qualification are more likely to work in jobs with very little scope for learning new skills or making decisions at work – with over one in three working in such jobs. Workers in these jobs also are likely to have far fewer opportunities to work with computers and new technology.

Discussing the results, Professor Ó Riain observed: “These figures show that there is a real problem with jobs in the more vulnerable end of the labour market – workers who have the least skills have the least opportunities to improve their lot through learning at work, working with modern technology, getting experience making decisions, and building a secure employment history. It also influences the decisions made in the economy including the terms of bargaining and investment in training. Although welfare payments are doing important work in reducing the income inequalities in our job market, there is a need for a lot more to be done on issues such as training, childcare and other measures that will build up both workers and companies who are caught in this low-learning trap at the moment.”

The data also provides a range of insights into some of the big changes in Irish people’s working lives since 1995. Those surveyed revealed that 46% of workers felt that the demands of their bosses were a primary driver of their work-rate, which is down from 59% two decades ago.

Meanwhile, deadline pressure has increased, up 5% to 46% in 2015. To meet the demands of increased deadline pressures there has been a jump in intensity, with those reporting having to work at high speed up to 54.3% from 46.4% in 1995 (+7.6%). However, Ireland is still behind Continental Europe (61%), the Mediterranean (66.1%), and Scandinavia (75.6%) in this respect.

“As well as pressure brought about by decreased job security, Irish people are working at a more intense rate than they were two decades ago.  This is being driven by an increased focus on deadlines,” said Professor Ó Riain.

“Unsurprisingly, given this increased pressure, the number of Irish people reporting that they are managing their work-life balance “not very well” or “not at all” has increased from 12.3% in 2000 to 14.6% in 2015.  Despite this increase, Ireland still ranks amongst the best in terms of Europe,” he added.

On Thursday, Nov 7, Professor Sean O’Rian  will be speaking at Digital Economy, New Forms of Work, and Challenges for Social Security Systems: Financing and Coverage, a conference hosted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP),  in collaboration with Maynooth University, marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the DEASP.