Explore UCD

UCD Home >

UCD/NERI Report: One in four workers in Ireland in 'precarious employment'

Posted 5 December 2023

One in four workers in Ireland are in precarious employment, according to (opens in a new window)a new analysis by UCD and the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI).

The joint report, derived from the UCD Working in Ireland Survey (WIIS) 2021, found that women, younger workers, and those without a third-level qualification were more likely to be represented in jobs that are characterised as including low wages, demanding workloads, low employment security, and those tightly monitored and controlled by employers.

A good job, the report notes, may be said to be one that pays well; the demands are not excessive; provides employment security; offers opportunities for career development and advancement; and affords discretion over how work is organised as well as providing social support and union representation.

A poor job, on the other hand, is one in which the pay is poor, excessively demanding, hours are very long, there is little job security, little opportunity to have a say in how one’s work is performed, and there are few training opportunities and few social supports. 

Carried out by (opens in a new window)Professor John Geary, from the UCD College of Business, and Lisa Wilson, NERI Senior Economist, the analysis broke down employment in Ireland into five job types, and showed that almost 15% of jobs were precarious in nature and provided low earnings. 

A further 12% were precarious and distinguished from the other precarious job cohort due to the incumbents’ work also being tightly monitored and controlled. 

Women were far more likely to be in such roles, many of them in sectors such as hospitality, care and retail. 

The remainder - almost three-quarters of jobs - impose relatively fewer demands and provide greater resources to workers. 

In these, men dominate the best positions in the country, with the majority of those employed in such high-quality jobs earning annual net salaries of between €40,000 and €60,000 usually with significant benefits attached.

The authors suggest a range of measures that may have the potential to increase not just the proportion of women in better jobs but also the levels of job satisfaction experienced across the workforce. 

“The State can and should do more to improve job quality,” states the authors. “It has several options.” 

“It could establish a set of minimum standards across a series of job quality dimensions. While this is not without difficulty, there is precedent for doing so. For example, we already have a national minimum wage, and we are working towards the achievement of a living wage. 

“Workers have rights in respect of sick pay and maternity leave, and there is the forthcoming code in respect of the right to request flexible working. There are many other such laws that affect people’s job quality. Regulations however require oversight and enforcement. While this can be achieved, it requires additional resources.

"Another approach is for the state to enhance the role of sectoral collective negotiations between unions and employers. This too can provide a means for establishing minimum job quality standards where all parties have a stake in eliminating the use of poor job quality as a method of gaining competitive advantage."

"Good jobs enhance the productive capacity of an economy,” the report adds. “Poor jobs do not and worse they lead to negative spill overs, including impaired wellbeing and health, where the state - to put it prosaically - is compelled to pick up the tab.”

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations

To contact the UCD News & Content Team, email: newsdesk@ucd.ie