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In September last year the G20, including the US and UK, signed the Ankara Declaration that explicitly and formally recognised the importance of job quality. The Declaration committed the governments of the advanced economies to strengthening job quality as a route to achieving strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth that might also deliver inclusiveness and improved standards of living.

This declaration forms part of a trend in which supranational and inter-governmental organisations such as the OECD and European Union have introduced a number of initiatives to promote job quality and its economic and social benefits. The background is often concerned about the effects of the global economic crisis but in the context of recognising that there is no necessary clash of policy outcomes in wanting both more jobs and better jobs.

These international initiatives are welcome but need to translate into national government actions. However at national government level the explicit championing of job quality is less obvious.

The Scottish Parliament is bucking this trend.In 2015 it established an Inquiry into Work, Wages and Wellbeing that explicitly sought to understand the social, economic and health impacts of precarious employment, and which, at its heart, had an overt concern with the quality of Scottish jobs.

The Inquiry has just published its report: Taking the High Road. Borrowing directly from the arguments outlined in the introduction to Are bad Jobs Inevitable? by Françoise Carré and her colleagues, it recommends that the Scottish Government paves the high road and blocks the low road.

The Scottish Government wants to improve job quality by raising and setting employment standards, with a key role to be played by public agencies. It also wants better research on job quality, the monitoring of job quality and the development of a fair work index for Scotland.  The full report can be found here.

Image: Joe Diaz via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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work wheelAmong the many things that the American mythology holds to be special about the United States is a particularly strong work ethic. This, of course, is part of a larger narrative of rugged individualism. However dubious the idea of a uniquely American work ethic, it is certainly telling to examine how much Americans work compared with fellow workers in peer countries.

In terms of average annual hours worked per person, the US currently ranks 12th out of 34 OECD countries – that is, Americans work more per year than workers in 22 other OECD countries. The average Dutch worker clocks in 405 fewer hours per year than the average American worker! Yet, the Netherlands ranks ninth out of the 34 countries in GDP per capita, 15% above the OECD average and just five places behind the US. As economist Juliet Schor argued in a best-selling book over 20 years ago, Americans are overworked. Let us examine the most recent, comparative data in a bit more detail.

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