Elements of international comparison on the management of arduous work

Publié le | Temps de lecture : 14 minutes

Agnès Jeantet, Guy Clary (Igas)


Definition of arduous workThe law does not address the issue because the system is based on negotiations between social partners (collective agreements that are renegotiated every three years, which then guarantee peaceful relations during this period). It is therefore difficult to make an overall assessment of the issue: the ministry, LO trade union and Komunal trade union were unable to answer the question.
Measures to prevent arduous workThe Swedish approach is based on prevention within companies, where employees can speak up and suggest improvements to reduce the “arduous” nature of the jobs in question (technical modifications, employee rotation, etc.)
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workA small part of the workforce appears to be covered by compensatory measures, particularly in the transport sector: early retirement, but without a full pension.
The number of those on leave due to illness or disability is high due to aging people being exposed to difficult working conditions in the course of their work.
The issue of compensation for arduous work is not a subject of pubic discussion, as pursuit of improved working conditions is part of the prevailing culture.
Definition of arduous workThere is no definition set out in the Labor Code, but it does feature in a statistical form used by the Ministry of Labor and developed by the Central Statistical Office, and is only used in the form’s explanatory notes (“Reporting on Working Conditions”). This terminology is also used by the Labor Protection Center – National Research Institute.
This form defines the hazards associated with arduous work: the restrictive position made necessary by the work activities or work environment; a high level of physical exertion requiring energy expenditure (per working day) of 8374 KJ for men and 4605 KJ for women (1 KJ = 0.24 kcal, i.e. non-mechanized work, cleaning cast parts, tree surgery, etc.); monotony (repetition of the same physical movements).
Measures to prevent arduous workUnder Article 207(1) of the Labor Code, employers are responsible for occupational health and safety.
According to Article 94(2), the employer is obliged to organize the work in a way that reduces its arduous nature, especially in the case of monotonous work and work performed at a set pace. A reduction of working hours is a solution for employees who are exposed to particularly arduous conditions or conditions that are particularly harmful to health (work breaks counted as part of working hours, reduction of standard working hours). The list of tasks in question is drawn up by the employer following consultation with the employees or their representatives and following consultation with the doctor responsible for preventive healthcare.
Women are not permitted to undertake certain forms of work that are particularly arduous or harmful to health.
Article 232 of the Code sets out the employer's obligations (to provide free meals and beverages if necessary, which must be of an appropriate quantity, type and temperature in view of the working conditions and the employees’ physiological needs).
The regulation of September 26, 1997 also defines the means of prevention: the employer must ensure that the work is organized appropriately and that the necessary means of prevention and measures to inform and train employees are implemented. The same regulation goes into further detail regarding workplaces, equipment and looking for solutions to ensure that heavy objects do not need to be moved manually. Finally, this regulation sets out provisions on how construction and assembly work is to be organized.
The regulation of the Minister of Labor and Social Policy of March 14, 2000 concerning occupational health and safety in connection with manual tasks in the transport sector sets out the employer's obligations to reduce the amount of manual work involved in transport.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workThe law of December 17, 1998 on retirement benefits and pensions from the social security fund sets out conditions for the right to early retirement before the legal retirement age, which is 60 for women and 65 for men. This scheme will soon be replaced by “transitional pensions” for people who worked in specific jobs and specific conditions prior to 1999 (date of the pension system reform). This measure will reduce the number of professions in which early retirement can be taken due to the nature of the work.
If an employee is left unable to work due to an accident at work or an occupational illness, the employer must set up a workspace with equipment that meets the employees needs no later than three months after the employee has stated that they are ready to return to work.
Definition of arduous workThere is no definition set out in law or in the collective agreements, as there are already provisions in place covering the main aspects of this (regulations on well-being at work, early retirement schemes and adjustments to working hours).
The term “arduous work” is only used in connection with monitoring workers’ health when they perform “an activity with a defined risk” (i.e. an activity for which the risk analysis results show that there is a link between exposure to ergonomic constraints or constraints resulting from the arduous nature of the work and an identifiable risk of physical or mental stress being placed on the worker). Another reference to this can be found in the “social Maribel” scheme (system for reducing social security contributions in the non-profit sector) which serves to promote the creation of jobs with the aim of reducing the workload and arduous nature of the work.
Measures to prevent arduous workMost of the regulations in place are the result of the European OHS directives being transposed into national law. The regulations stipulate that the employer must offer work that is adapted to the worker’s needs in certain situations involving arduous work.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workDue to the lack of any regulatory definition, there are no specific arrangements for providing compensation.
Older workers do have (legal and contractual) means of exiting the labor market early or reducing their working hours.
Compensation is provided for within the scope of disability benefits and financed by the social security system.
Reference is made to “demanding jobs” (alternating shift work, regular nighttime work, work in split shifts, etc.) in the context of the ongoing reform of the early retirement system with the aim being the introduction of less stringent conditions relating to the length of one’s career.
The cost of early retirement is covered by the state and companies, but there are no available figures on the scheme.
Definition of arduous workThere is no legal definition or public discussion of this topic. The concepts of occupational risk and unhealthy or dangerous work are more well defined.
Due to the “harder and harder” culture, the arduous nature of work is not taken into consideration. Society “as a whole” would not tolerate the regulation or restriction of nighttime or Sunday work.
There is no reliable data on exposure to physically demanding work.
Measures to prevent arduous workFor all parties concerned, managing these demands is part of preventing professional risks and ensuring health and safety at work.
There is no interprofessional or industry-wide collective bargaining. In companies where a trade union has been recognized by the majority of employees (less than 20% of the workforce), agreements on arduous work can be negotiated. Due to the lack of federal statistics, all we can say is that there are salary benefits and other benefits available to the workers concerned.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workCompensation is not a matter of discussion, but if this were to change, it would make it difficult to calculate retirement benefits due to the complexity of the pension system, company demographics and the dynamic nature of the labor market.
Definition of arduous work

The concept is not legally defined, neither in law nor in collective agreements (except the one involving the municipalities).

  • Private sector:
    The law that came into force on January 1, 2006 on changes to the tax treatment of early retirement and the introduction of the time savings account (VPL Act) has implications for the current debate. The goal is to encourage employees to work until the age of retirement (65) by making early retirement disadvantageous from a tax perspective.
    These situations are regulated by the collective agreements. Nevertheless, the FNV trade union has been trying to negotiate a definition of arduous work since 2007, as the current government’s coalition agreement, following on from the VPL Act, provides for restricting access to early retirement except for those whose work is deemed arduous. Negotiations in the public transport sector are ongoing. The factors that need to be taken into consideration would be, firstly, preventive measures, provisions for assigning an employee to a different role once they reach a certain age where preventive measures cannot be taken, and finally, if this is not possible, ensuring that early retirement remains an option.


  • Public sector: Collective agreement for public sector workers (including prison staff); collective agreement for the municipalities (including firefighters and police officers).
    In the collective agreement for the municipalities, arduous work is defined as “a job that the municipality considers impossible to perform for the entire duration of one’s career because it is deemed too psychologically or physically demanding”. In the case of firefighters, the agreement refers to “work that is likely to result in long-term consequences for one’s health, such as nighttime work, and the physically demanding nature of the work.” The Ministry of the Interior has drawn up a list of all the jobs within the Netherlands’ public sector that are deemed arduous (criteria: physical effort, harsh environment, psychological pressure, stress, unusual work pattern). For some of the jobs on the list, the age of retirement is 60, while for others it is 55. Since 2000, it has not been possible to add further jobs to this list and the number of jobs listed has in fact decreased.
Measures to prevent arduous workThe law on working conditions imposes obligations on employees, including ensuring that a catalog of working conditions are put in place.
There are no general compensation measures for jobs that are deemed arduous. The measures vary according to role and sector. As a general rule, they do not involve a pay rise, but obligations with regard to mobility, professional training, ergonomics, use of new technologies, etc. In the public sector, an employee cannot work in the same job for more than 20 years if it has been classed as arduous, unless they have the permission of the occupational doctor and the employer to continue.
The periodic arduous work assessment plan (PAM) is a tool used to evaluate the various components of physical and mental stress for each type of job. The employer must make every effort to provide lifelong professional training to enable the employee to work in another professional field after having worked in an arduous job.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workThe VPL Act discourages early retirement in both the private and public sectors.
In the public sector, municipal employees with arduous jobs receive a personal contribution equal to 2.5% of their salary, which is paid into a time savings account to help finance early retirement.
Definition of arduous workThe concept of arduousness is taken into account by legislative decree 374, issued in 1993 and amended by law 335 (“Dini”) of 1996, which has led to the granting of a bonus linked to social security (reduction of the age of retirement and the number of years for which contributions must have been paid) for employees with “particularly arduous” working conditions. These arduous situations include “particularly intense and sustained mental or physical effort, determined by factors that cannot be predicted by taking appropriate measures”. A list accompanies this decree.
An interministerial decree from May 19, 1999 sets out the criteria for determining which jobs are characterized by their particularly arduous nature (Ministry of Labor and Social Security, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Public Administration, on the advice of an ad hoc scientific technical commission made up of 20 members (administrations, organizations representing employers and workers). These criteria concern life expectancy, the socio-economic characteristics of the job and occupational hazards.
An initiative to compile the various standards relating to arduous work has been launched in order to more comprehensively define the specific benefits associated with these working conditions and to create a general framework for financial compatibility.
Measures to prevent arduous work

There are no specific measures in place to prevent arduous work, except those provided for in risk prevention legislation.
There are no measures to compensate employees for the arduous nature of their work in the collective agreements.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous work In addition to Law 335 (“Dini”) of 1996, Law 243 of August 23, 2004 concerning “standards relating to pensions and the powers granted to the government with regard to the state pension provision sector to encourage supplementary pension provision and stable employment and to reorganize the social security and mandatory assistance institutions” entrusts the government with the task of introducing special systems for employees involved in arduous activities and setting up support systems for the categories of workers employed in arduous jobs.

The 2001 Finance Act provides for an initial reduction in the age of retirement and the amount of contributions required for workers who have performed particularly arduous jobs as defined by the list of arduous jobs between 8/10/1993 and 31/12/2001:

  • reduction of the age limit by 2 months for each year of particularly arduous work (up to a maximum of 60 months for the old-age pension, 12 months for the employment pension)
  • reduction of contributions by one year for every 10 years of such arduous work (up to a maximum of 24 months)
  • for pensions based on the contribution system, a reduction of up to one year for every six years of very arduous work or an increase in the conversion factor of one year for every six years of such work.

Employees benefit from this if they have worked in an arduous job for at least one continuous year (after 1993) or have worked in particularly arduous conditions for at least 120 days per year. The costs are covered by the state, particularly the National Institute for Social Security (INPS).

Definition of arduous workThe Japanese people who were interviewed, including trade unions, say that this depends on the worker’s personality and that it is difficult to define it in an abstract way.
Measures to prevent arduous workThere are no specific provisions concerning the prevention of arduous work, but there are standards for improving the working environment and monitoring workers' health (working hours, medical examinations, monitoring overtime, regulations for handling dangerous products).
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workCompensation measures are provided for in the event of a workplace accident, based on a system similar to that implemented in France.
No compensation is offered retrospectively to workers who have performed arduous work in the past, but jobs that are considered arduous do tend to be better paid.
Early retirement for sailors and miners has been abolished.
Definition of arduous workThere is no legal definition because only the health and safety perspective is taken into account, meaning that retirement is not affected. The public pensions are paid as a flat rate financed by taxes and there is no debate on the matter. It should be noted that there are plans to gradually increase the age of entitlement to the basic pension, which is currently 65 years, to 68 years between 2020 and 2044.
Measures to prevent arduous workThere are no legal measures except in the context of combating discrimination on the basis of age or disability.
Collective bargaining has not addressed this issue.
In terms of health and safety, the company’s manager has a duty to protect the public against exposure to risks. The manager must carry out an assessment, then take appropriate action to prevent the identified risks. These requirements remain vague. These actions form part of human resources policy, with the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) possibly providing help, but there is no definition of arduous jobs or systems for classifying them.
If jobs are considered arduous, the employee can retrain or change company. In addition, if the job is considered arduous and unappealing, companies offer higher pay.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workNo specific financial support is offered, but there is a disability and incapacity benefits system. Benefit reductions are being considered.
Definition of arduous workLegislation provides an ad hoc definition. This definition is not based on scientific or statistical criteria, but on the view that ailments are the result of exhausting occupational activity.
This is a matter of discussion, as these ailments can only be taken into consideration following a “reasonable”
request from someone who has been subject to “reasonable” management. These terms remain vague and the forms of compensation are also difficult to objectively define.
Measures to prevent arduous workThe law is strict regarding the ergonomics of workspace equipment (height of desks, configuration of computers, measures to support people with disabilities, etc.).
For the past ten years or so, there has been a “Comcare” program designed to reduce forms of stress at work, which involves measures that fall within the scope of human resources management. Since 1997, a guide to best practice has been distributed to managers and information leaflets on hygiene and accident prevention have been distributed to all employees.
The federal government has a dedicated office for dealing with these issues. This is run by the Federal Safety Commissioner. Independent entities responsible for ensuring that investigations remain objective operate within the federal states.
Arrangements for providing compensation for arduous workThere is a system for the payment of special premiums, but no further compensation.
For employees who have worked in arduous jobs, contracts are entered into between the employer and the private insurance companies via a specific assistance program (the employer finances this contract on a pro rata basis based on the employee's salary. An employee pays an average of 300 euros per month in salary contributions.)
Suffering workers can benefit from health insurance, unemployment insurance or early retirement, provided they can provide evidence of poor management by their employer.
Against the backdrop of a strong labor market (unemployment rate of 3.5%), the arduous nature of work is
“trivialized”, as it is associated with highly productive sectors of the economy where salaries tend to be high.
The federal authorities have earmarked a 21.6 million euro budget to tackle this problem; a 1 to 2% reduction is being discussed.