Staggered hours, imposed weekends… A study reveals how much the working conditions of low-skilled women have deteriorated

The national institute for demographic studies, INED, conducted a long-term study (from 2013 to 2019) to try to determine to what extent the working conditions of low-skilled women have deteriorated. It shows that this part of the population is the only one to see its working conditions worsen over time.

This is the case for Sylvie Chevalier, elected CGT and employee at Monoprix for 37 years. She turned on all the positions, from the checkouts to the bakery through the shelves. She notes that the schedules have become heavier over the last decade: “It has gotten a lot worse, especially since they no longer replace people who are sick. They no longer replace people who go on vacation, they no longer replace people who quit and no longer replace people who leave for retirement. So we are asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer employees.” The majority of her colleagues at the store are women who are often on forced part-time.

The INED study shows, with supporting figures, that in terms of timetables, progress is not shared by all. The least qualified women are indeed more forced to work staggered or atypical hours, an increase of 11% between 2013 and 2019. The trend is not at all the same for female executives since over the same period, their staggered hours decrease by 23%.

Percentage of employees working atypical hours by socio-professional category, sex and year.  (NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR DEMOGRAPHIC STUDIES)

Among men, executives are also better treated than unskilled workers, but the figures are less contrasted: less 14% of difficult working hours for managers, while the proportion is stagnating among unskilled workers. When we talk about atypical working hours, we mean working early in the morning, from 5 a.m. or late at night after 8 p.m. or even at night. Daily and family life becomes complicated. “We no longer see our husband and our childrenlaments Sylvie Chevalier. I was a single mother, that added a difficulty since when we worked late or when we worked at the weekend, even on Saturday, it’s complicated. We have to pay someone to look after a child and we work for nothing. What we earn is to pay the person who will look after our children.”

INED has also taken into account compulsory work on Saturdays and Sundays. It should be noted that in 2019, France was in the European average with 36% of employees working on this type of schedule. According to INED, this trend is explained by the fact that unskilled women are numerous in trades and mass distribution as sales assistants, department employees or maintenance workers.

It is especially Sunday work that has exploded over this decade with the effects of the 2009 law which relaxes the exemptions from Sunday rest. Interesting financially because paid double. Sunday work is nonetheless experienced by Sylvie as an obligation: “Wages are the Smic. That’s why people go there and it’s not for anything else. You only have to pay double on Wednesday and everyone will want to work on Wednesday. This is not a question of being voluntary, it’s really just a question that it puts butter in the spinach. Sometimes with perverse effects. Sometimes Sylvie lost more on her housing allowance than the extra money she had earned on Sunday.

The voluntary system is far from being the rule since establishments which have the permanent right to open on Sundays can impose work on that day, in particular supermarkets. Faced with this extension of hours and derogations from Sunday rest, since the law of 2009, there is negotiation. When unions and management come to an agreement explains Thierry Babeau, elected CFDT at Carrefour: “We have agreements today which can guarantee employees, for Sunday morning for example, a 200% increase with compensation for two days a week, and indeed we have a few volunteers. There are sometimes agreements that we manage to put in place and which also manage to protect the employees. But the proliferation of store sales by groups to individual managers makes it more difficult, he says, to negotiate balanced agreements on schedules.

Commerce is not the only sector concerned, explains the INED study. Personal services also often use staggered hours and they also employ a high proportion of women in low-skilled jobs. They are also more exposed to choppy working days with break periods of at least three hours and schedules known at the last moment, a day in advance or less.

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