The construction sector is the leading industrial employer in Europe, representing 7.5% of total European employment and 28.1% of industrial employment in the European Union. The European construction sector comprises roughly 3.3 million construction firms, of which 95% have fewer than 20 workers and 93% fewer than 10. 

Approximately 15 million workers are directly employed in the European construction sector. Employment in the sector has a very powerful multiplier effect on employment as a whole; one job in the construction industry generates two new jobs in the overall economy . A strong employment policy in the construction sector therefore has a positive impact on employment in general.

Compared with other industrial activities, the construction sector is by far the most labour-intensive industry. About 50% of turnover is achieved through the labour of the workers. For this reason the work force of construction firms constitutes the main economic lever for the future survivability of the sector. Productivity in the sector largely determines the competitiveness of building enterprises. 

The construction industry is continuously changing and adapting to new challenges such as the greening and digitalization of our society, migration, demographic changes, need for affordable houses, … All these changes have a large impact on the construction industry, its labour market and of course its workers.

A sustainable construction industry implies that construction companies and workers operate in a sustainable European internal market, which set a fair level playing field for companies and workers. For the EFBWW, the national social partners of the construction industry, and in particular the national trade unions should play a major role in setting the national economic and social construction market. Equally, important are efficient and effective preventive, controling and sanctioning mechanisms, to put an end to fraudulent and abusive practices.

Traditionally construction workers are an exceedingly vulnerable group in the highly competitive battle between building firms. A high incidence of work accidents (some of which with a fatal outcome), a substantial number of cyclical unemployed and a large proportion of undeclared work (more on further on) are therefore not unknown phenomena in the sector. 

As the construction industry is a very mobile sector, where workers often work in another country, permanently or temporary, the EFBWW is strongly committed to ensure that all construction workers are treated equally. The EU posting of workers Directive 96/71 and its revised PWD Directive 2018/957, the enforcement Directive 2014/67 and the EU Regulation on the coordination of social security regimes 883/2004 are very important legislative tools to ensure that temporary posting is properly organized.

For the EFBWW it is of utmost importance that all workers are treated equally, that all forms of "social dumping" is properly prevented, controled and enforced. At the same time the EFBWW considers that a good cross-border cooperation between trade unions, labour inspectorates and national authorities is vital. 

The fiercely competitive situation in the construction sector is apparent inter alia from the strong pressure to drive down prices ever lower. A major adverse effect of the competitive pressure is the relatively high number of bankruptcies in the sector. The incidence of social "fraud", “abuse” and "circumvention" is extremely high. 

Currently, the construction industry is changing at a rapid speed, which has major consequences for our construction workers. As EFBWW, we also focus our actions on the "future of work", covering globalization changes, demographic developments, migration, technical developments (such as digitization, BIM, 3D printing, robotisation, nanomaterials ...) and changes in the production methods (such a platform work, prefabrication ...). 

The future EU's "Green Deal" ambitions will have major implications for the European construction sector. Production will become much more circular, new energy targets will be set, new technologies adopted, and major renovation projects for private and public housing and infrastructure will be encouraged. Such a transition will bring many opportunities and challenges for our construction workers. It is claimed that the transition to a green, circular and climate-neutral economy will have a significant positive impact on overall employment in the construction sector. In its 2015 resolution 2014/2238(INI), the European Parliament highlighted the role of the social partners in the transition to green work, noting, quite rightly, that "more needs to be done to build a lasting and sustainable social dialogue that can help to meet the challenges posed by the move to a competitive, low-carbon, resource-efficient economy". 

The EFBWW and other construction stakeholders call upon the European Commission to strengthen the current construction policy context by creating a new vision for the built environment: “Construction 2050: Building tomorrow’s Europe today”.

A fair and just environmental transition means that the burden of change is borne by all, that the benefits are shared by all, that those most vulnerable to change are protected, and that all conditions are fostered to ensure a socially responsible environmental transition. For this EFBWW demands that:

  • the workers representatives are involved in all levels and stages of the transition phase (VET, Collective bargaining, implementation of actions ...);
  • the transition measures are organized in a system of 'solidarity';
  • no workers are left behind and particular attention should be given to the non and low skilled workers, migrants, youngsters and older workers and women;
  • life-long-learning is a workers right, aimed to strengthen the professional skills and qualifications of the workers;
  • workers have a right to retraining and/or mediation towards other jobs or industries;
  • a basic digital and environmental training is guaranteed to all construction workers;
  • the transition take in account new occupational health and safety hazards, such as psychosocial hazards, the impact of new technologies at the workplace, hazardous substances, workplace;
  • professional skills and qualifications are recognized and imposed for specific construction activities;
  • that the risk of energy poverty must be addressed

The construction sector is not only the biggest industrial employer, but also the motor of general employment policy. The impact of the sector on economic, social and fiscal policy is of considerable importance for national authorities. 

Information of the European construction industry is available on the website of the European Commission.

European Federationof Building and Woodworkers

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