Academic journal article International Journal of Labour Research

Green and Decent? Working Conditions in the Waste Sector in Europe and Implications for Trade Union Policy

Academic journal article International Journal of Labour Research

Green and Decent? Working Conditions in the Waste Sector in Europe and Implications for Trade Union Policy

Article excerpt

The objective of the proposed paper is to investigate the question of the quality of work in the waste sector in the context of the transition towards a recycling society and to formulate some recommendations for trade union strategies at the European level. Very often greening is associated with positive outcomes but there is evidence that "green" jobs are not always "good" jobs (Ponce, 2011). What is the situation in waste collection? The transition from collecting and "landfilling" to sorting, selecting and recycling is under way in many European societies, and this affects the work organization and the job characteristics of employment in this sector, thus opening a space for more green jobs. But are "greener" jobs always better jobs? What could the representatives of trade unions in Europe do to improve the quality of work?

This paper is based on the current research done in the framework of a European comparative project, WALQING (a project in the European Union's 7th Framework Programme, involving research institutes and universities in 11 countries that ran from November 2009 to October 2012) and discussions within the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) ( The WALQING project aims to identify the conditions of favourable "new and growing" job configurations, involving stakeholders in this assessment and identifying gaps in stakeholder, national and European policies, among others.

After briefly presenting WALQING research in the waste sector, the article discusses how greening, Europeanization and privatization impact the quality of work, thus enabling the actors to be located and strategies for improving the quality of work to be analysed; it also formulates some implications for trade union policy. The article develops some recommendations for trade union action at the European level that could take into account the various processes impacting the quality of work such as greening and outsourcing, in order to create better conditions for workers.

The WALQING project and research in the waste sector

WALQING1 explores the linkages between "new jobs", their conditions of work and employment, and the outcomes for the employees' quality of work and life. It connects micro- and macro-levels of analysis and, on the basis of this evidence, identifies critical configurations and examples of good practice. It uses the data from the most important European surveys (EU LFS, EWCS, EU-SILC and ESQL) to detect patterns of job growth, job and life quality, in order to build enriched typologies and identify the likely causes and effects of employment growth. On the basis of this analysis, salient sectors and functions were identified in which bad and good configurations of job and life quality are to be found.2 These sectors are waste collection, construction, elderly care, cleaning and catering.

For all these sectors, the question of quality of work is investigated through qualitative case studies of work organizations and business functions (case studies are done in ten organizations in four countries, completed by four case studies on individuals in waste collection) and through the analysis of stakeholders' strategies for addressing the quality of work. The institutional analysis (that was completed through action research methodology in some of the participating countries) was done on the basis of national sectoral reports, desk research and interviews with key stakeholders. The objective was to investigate collective actors' policies and their limitations, and to take stock of successful arrangements.3 The present analysis is based on the national sectoral reports of the waste sector in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark and Italy (working papers4), as well as the analysis and interviews carried out at the European level. The national sectoral analyses for Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark and Italy and at the European level are based on some 30 interviews. Case studies are in progress in four countries (ten cases comprising over 100 interviews; the results were expected in September 2012). …

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