Working conditions in the retail sector under scrutiny

Publikováno: 11. 9. 2012

New Eurofound study on working conditions in the commerce sector
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 ICT.

'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.


The report is available to read and download here.

For further information, contact

  • Mans Martensson, Eurofound's media manager, on email, telephone: +353-1-204 3124, and mobile: +353-876-593 507.
  • Marjolein Raes, EuroCommerce Director Advocacy & Communications, on email or by telephone: +32-2-737 0599.
  • Laila Castaldo, UNI Europa Policy Officer, on email or by telephone: +32-2-235 0868.



The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) is a tripartite EU Agency which provides social partners, governments and EU decision makers with relevant, timely and unbiased research results so that the lives of European citizens can be improved.  
For more information about Eurofound and its work, and free access to all our data and findings, find us on the following social media channels: TwitterFacebookYouTubeLivestreamRSS.

EuroCommerce and the commerce sector

EuroCommerce represents the retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe. Its membership includes commerce federations and companies in 31 European countries.
The sector is a major source of employment creation: 31 million Europeans work in commerce. It also supports millions of dependent jobs throughout the supply chain from small local suppliers to international businesses.
For more on the multisectoral approach and guidelines to tackle work-related third party violence and harassment, click here.

UNI Europa

UNI Europa is a European trade union federation. It unites national trade unions organising in service and skills sectors. It has 320 affiliated trade union organizations and represents 7 million workers in 50 countries.

Autor: Hanka Michovska



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