Woodworking industries: employment and social issues
Although still very significant, employment in the EU woodworking industries has continued to decline over the last 10 years. In 2008, it fell by 1.9% compared to 2007, and its level is currently 8% lower than in 2000. From a structural point of view, detailed data are only available for 2003. They show that high-skilled workers accounted for only around 9% of the employed woodworking industries workforce, with low-skilled workers comprising 49% and medium-skilled workers for around 41%.
Since 2000, the European Social Dialogue within this sector has provided scope for action between the social partners, by bringing together both trades unions and employers in a neutral forum provided by the European Commission. The Social Dialogue enables social partners across Europe to address the common challenges facing their sector in a consensual and innovative way. Such challenges include:
- the development of sectoral 'ethics' through the promotion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and fundamental rights,
- the promotion of sustainable development,
- promoting the use of wood in construction and other sectors (e.g. renewable energy) and
- education and training.
Education, training and skills
The Enhanced Use of Wood Working Group and the industry's "Road Map 2010" identified a mismatch between the supply and demand in education, training and skills development in and around the sector as a major limiting factor to its growth. The lack of mutual acceptance of qualifications between EU Member States further restricts mobility. Following a detailed survey, remedial work has started under the Forest-based Sector Technology Platform, initially at tertiary level, with technical and operative levels to follow. Awareness and knowledge of wood as a technically and environmentally advanced material amongst key decision-makers, such as architects and planners, is vital to its enhanced (wider and appropriate) use. The Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) offers opportunities for supporting projects, for example in education and training.
Health and safety
Health and safety issues are of primary importance in any industry. In the woodworking industries, hazards come not only from machinery, the use of which requires proper training, but also from some of the raw materials themselves, including wood dust and adhesive constituents, such as formaldehyde. These agents can, under certain conditions, be carcinogenic. Other process chemicals, such as solvents, may also present hazards.