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Research finds new inequity at work between the sexes

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A study of European Union (EU) workers has suggested that legislation may need to be changed to ensure equity at work because male and female permanent and temporary workers differ in reacting to job stresses—psychosocial work factors—by going sick. This is the first study to explore a link between employment state and—specifically—work related sickness absence and sex, and it underlines the influence of low job control.

Men and women in temporary jobs with low control had much higher risks of sickness absence (adjusted rate ratio 1.63, 1.70, respectively) compared with men and women in permanent jobs with high control as the reference category. In temporary jobs with high control they seemed to have a lesser risk (0.37, 0.94, respectively). Women in temporary jobs with high job demands had a higher risk of sickness absence (1.28) but less risk (0.69) in temporary, low demand jobs, compared with those in permanent jobs with low demands. Interaction between job stresses and employment state was significant only for control in men and demand in women.

The cross sectional survey—the Third European Survey on Working Conditions (ESWC)— comprised data obtained by interview during Mar-April 2000 from a random sample of the total active working population aged ⩾15 across 15 EU countries. In all, 12 875 permanent and 1203 temporary employees contributed.

Work related sickness absence is an important marker of health and productivity of the working population. This study indicates that future research should assess permanent and temporary workers separately.