Work Matters

Workers installing solar pannels

The COVID-19 pandemic made us think about employment and working conditions and how those relate to our health and wellbeing. Already before the corona virus hit us, our work-life balance wasn’t a very healthy one. The pace of work had accelerated, with higher demands, tighter deadlines, numerous deliverables, and events to attend and organise. This impacted not only on our physical and mental health, but also the health of our planet. Since COVID-19, this pace has changed somewhat. Homeworking became the norm for many. This allowed us to combine work and home duties – leading to a different set of gender-related challenges. Nevertheless it offered a flexible yet productive approach to work. Working from home has now become a new right that can be used by employers and employees in the search to a more sustainable, healthy, and enjoyable approach to working life.

Working conditions and skills building

Many workers have however not been able to stay at home since their professions were deemed necessary for the functioning of society – so called ‘essential-workers’. These workers ensure the optimal running of our infrastructures and services such as in transport, food, urban cleaning, education, health and social services. COVID-19 revealed how we value these workers in theory, but not in practice; many essential-workers face poor working conditions, and are insufficiently renumerated, with some even living below poverty thresholds. Income is an important determinant of health and salaries will need to be revisited, in addition to job quality. This will be even more critical in the future, considering demographic change and expected shortage of workers. Tackling income inequality and minimum wage protection must be high on political agendas. We need to invest in improving conditions in those jobs that provide a foundation for well-functioning societies.

Finally, while the economy is gradually rebuilding, we see not everyone is benefitting equally. The long-term unemployed, migrants and older workers’ competencies remain undervalued.  They continue to be without a job or work in poor conditions, which negatively affect their health and wellbeing. At the same time, the shape of the labour market continues to change due to technology and digitisation as well as the green transition. Investments in digital literacy, vocational training and equitable education are crucial to ensure everyone remains on board. Education and mitigation social disadvantage are important to disease prevention and health promotion. EuroHealthNet is therefore closely monitoring EU policies and programmes in ‘up-’ and ‘re-skilling’ and related Recovery and Resilience plans of its Member States. We also bring together promising practices on the links between health and employment, such as in our recent Policy Precis ‘Making the link: Working conditions, health, and equity’.

In this edition

This edition of the EuroHealthNet magazine focuses on the evidence on links between employment and health and chronic disease, and cover some innovative projects underway. It is great to see how increasingly public health bodies and EuroHealthNet partners initiate projects in this area, as work matters to health. I hope you enjoy reading their articles.

Labour markets, health, and the pandemic

Public Health Scotland has been highlighting the links between labour markets and health since the beginning of the pandemic. We might recognise the need for improved social protection to protect health now – but could we also consider the changes today as an opportunity for better health in the future? We learn about their position.

From the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research we learn about the latest evidence on health and employment. It suggests that post-COVID recovery plans should target non-standard contracts, harmful conditions and promote social protection policies to reduce health inequalities and tackle NCDs

Since the arrival of COVID-19 in Europe, EuroFound has been researching how the pandemic is changing the way we work and live. They found that gender and generational divides have increased. This article gives an overview of the findings – and what we can learn from them as we start to rebuild.

Risks at work

During the pandemic, work has not stopped for migrant agricultural workers in Italy’s south. Often living in precarious situations, they have limited access to the health system. How can we design health systems for migrant workers? One inspiring project presents some ideas.

Another group of essential workers who face high risks in their work are urban cleaners. They protect our health by keeping our streets and towns clean and safe. But how are they protected themselves? The MUC project is working to help workers take ownership of health and safety measures, and assessing what changes are needed in training and education.

Discrimination unfortunately is still an issue many people need to deal with in their working lives. A group in France and England are looking at obesity, employment, and discrimination in the workplace. It is helping people living with excess weight make positive changes in their lives, and opening up routes to employment. One of the ways they are doing that is by working with recruiters to address discrimination in the workplace.

Workplace Health Promotion

Recent work of the European Collaboration initiative the ‘Joint Action’ CHRODIS Plus looked at how to implement policies and practices in the workplace to tackle chronic diseases. We learn about a free toolkit for workplaces for employee health, wellbeing, and participation. It enables workplaces of all sizes to take measures that foster the wellbeing and health of employees.

Once you have found a good practice for workplace health promotion, how do you transfer it to new settings? We hear about the experience of transferring a model from Italy to Spain – and the impact of the pandemic on implementation.

Further reading:

Watch: Skills for Health: Up– and re- skilling for a sustainable recovery.

Read: Making the link: working conditions and health equity

Listen: Podcast- The effect of the gig economy on young people’s health.

Alliance: The European Mental health alliance – Employment and work

Caroline Costongs
Director at EuroHealthNet | + posts

Caroline Costongs is Director of EuroHealthNet and expert in public health and health promotion. Caroline leads a multi-disciplinary team working on European and (sub)national policy, advocacy, research and capacity building addressing health inequalities. Caroline is active in various EU and WHO fora, Advisory Boards and various EU projects, and is a member of the ICC – International Council for the European Public Health Conference.

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