Working Conditions in "Green Jobs": Women in the Renewable Energy Sector

By Rustico, Lisa; Sperotti, Francesca | International Journal of Labour Research, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Working Conditions in "Green Jobs": Women in the Renewable Energy Sector


Rustico, Lisa, Sperotti, Francesca, International Journal of Labour Research


WiRES (Women in Renewable Energy Sector) is a project about women and green jobs. It was implemented in 2009 and 2010 by Adapt, the Association for International and Comparative Studies in Labour Law and Industrial Relations, in cooperation with its partners: the University of Szeged (Hungary) and the Union for Private Economic Enterprise (Bulgaria). WiRES' main objective was to investigate the role of social dialogue in boosting female employment rates and improving working conditions of women workers in the renewable energy sector (RES) in Europe.

The idea of the project stemmed from the analysis of the impact of the new environmental regulatory framework - at a European and national level - on employment and the labour market. The Climate and Energy Package, adopted by the European Union (EU) Parliament and Council in October 2008 (European Parliament and Council of the European Union, 2009), set new binding standards aimed at tackling climate change. One of the ambitious objectives is to increase the use of renewables (wind, solar, biomass, etc.) to 20 per cent of the total energy production by 2020.1 The production of energy from renewable sources is expected to have an exponential occupational potential; the European Commission estimated that new energy jobs will increase up to 2.5 million in 2020 in the EU alone, with 60-70 per cent of the workforce engaged in manufacturing, engineering and installation services, and the remainder in agriculture. A qualified workforce, involving specific skills for renewable energy, will account for about 30 per cent of total employment, with the rest of the workforce exploiting specific skills and competencies already acquired in other industrial sectors (D'Orazio, 2009). The new environmental legislation is also expected to significantly affect production methods and processes. On the labour demand side, the so-called "job churn" effect is likely to be experienced, across sectors and within the same industry. New jobs will be created: some occupations may be replaced and others will disappear without any replacement; yet more will undergo changes in job content, required skills and work methods. This requires a well-managed restructuring, so that the competitiveness of enterprises is maintained and employment is preserved, and the transition of workers to other jobs of equivalent or even better quality is facilitated.

Given this context, the research question that inspired the WiRES project was whether social dialogue and industrial relations can support the restructuring processes related to the implementation of EU climate change policies, turning them into a driver for the creation of new and better employment opportunities not only for men but for women as well. Female employment, in fact, remains a challenging issue in many European countries. Historically, women have been more affected by underemployment than men and have also tended to be concentrated in more precarious types of jobs (Eurostat, 2010).

In addition to this, a lot remains to be done in terms of the quality of women's participation. This includes issues surrounding the gender pay gap, horizontal and vertical segregation, and the organization of working time and work-life balance. According to Eurostat, in 2009, women's gross hourly earnings were on average 17 per cent lower than men's in the EU27. The gender pay gap extends well beyond the question of equal pay for equal work (EC, 2010a), as it encompasses several other aspects: the way women's competences are valued compared with men's within a firm; horizontal and vertical segregation; other inequalities mainly affecting women - in particular their disproportionate burden of family responsibilities and the difficulties in reconciling work with private life. When it comes to concerns of horizontal and vertical segregation,2 there was not much positive improvement in sectors and occupations between 2003 and 2008. It is only recently that women have made advances into some jobs that were previously male-dominated (such as construction, electricity, gas and water supply, transport and communications, manufacturing and agriculture). …

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