Improving working conditions in the hairdressing sector

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2014

Employment Studies Issue 20

Andrea Broughton, Principal Research Fellow

Andrea BroughtonThe hairdressing sector faces a number of employment-related challenges, including relatively low pay; limited opportunities for career development; health and safety considerations such as skin complaints from working with water and chemical dyes; and ergonomic issues. IES recently carried out a European study looking at working conditions and the future challenges for the social partners in this sector in eight countries, based on a scenario-building methodology.

The research

The research was carried out for Eurofound, Dublin, at the request of the EU-level social partners in the hairdressing sector. It focused on eight EU countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom. The specific objectives of the research were to: identify current and future challenges for the hairdressing sector in relation to the quality of work and employment; and to examine how and at what levels the improvement of quality of work and employment can be addressed by the social partners.

One of the key points of focus of the research was to link social partner actions and strategies to the concept of quality of work, using quality of work indicators based on career and employment security, skills development, reconciliation of working and non-working life, and health and well-being. This was carried out by undertaking desk research in each of the eight countries, interviewing relevant national social partners and stakeholders, and carrying out three focus groups of social partners, in which the main issues and strategies relevant for the sector were discussed. A small non-representative survey of salon owners and employees was also undertaken.

On the basis of this research, four scenarios of possible development in the sector were built. Through the research we identified a number of drivers, which were assessed on the basis of their relevance, importance and likelihood. We were looking overall for factors that had high potential impact but also a high uncertainty factor, which would serve to open up possible scenarios. Based on an assessment of the drivers, these factors were grouped together in order to build four separate scenarios. Main themes and challenges

Our research found that there was a wide difference between the eight countries examined, particularly in terms of unionisation rates and collective bargaining structures. However, there were also a number of themes and challenges that were common to the sector across countries. These include: low wages; the dominance of SMEs; a predominance of self-employment; difficulties in entering the profession; low unionisation rates in some countries; occupational segregation; precarity in employment; the negative impact of the crisis; and health and safety considerations.

The scenarios

Based on the information gathered in the research, four potential future scenarios were built on the basis of trends such as a re-emergence of craft sector values, the development of technology, political uncertainty, climate change, and demographic shifts. An overview of the scenarios is given below.

First scenario: the rosy glow of craft sector values

In this scenario, the image of the sector is much improved, due to recognition of the value of people working with their hands. This is in part a general cultural shift back to a craft culture and also, in this sector, a consequence of technology having been tried but having ultimately failed: there had been an attempt to introduce automatic washing and cutting devices into salons, but this was not popular among customers, due to problems with the operation of the technology, the lack of social interaction and some high-profile mishaps. Customers subsequently realised the importance of communication and interaction with their stylist. The social partners have been able to push through a drive to professionalise career paths, competences and qualifications.

Second scenario: robohair

In this scenario, technological advances begin to change the shape and composition of the hairdressing sector. New applications, such as automated hair-washing and hair-cutting machines, remove much of the need for stylists to engage in actual washing and cutting of hair. Nanotechnology or inventions such as products that can be taken orally or by injection to stop hair greying or change hair colour mean that there is a collapse in demand for hair dye products, taking away a large part of salons’ business and revenue stream, but also eliminating the health and safety issues connected with exposure to chemicals. The manufacturers of technological equipment become players in the sector.

Third scenario: the rise of the mall

In this scenario, economic uncertainty, resulting from factors such as climate change, political uncertainty, growing scarcity of resources and an ageing population, begins to have a profound impact on the structure of the sector. The high street continues to shrink, as the popularity of the out-of-town shopping mall grows, meaning that salons are increasingly part of a larger shopping mall, and subject to its opening hours. The sector polarises between larger chains and selfemployed mobile hairdressers. In addition, the presence of more chains initiates a price war, which in turn has a downward pressure on pay and conditions in the sector.

Fourth scenario: global warming leads to the dry salon

This is a world of economic uncertainty where the effects of global warming and climate change begin to increase the cost of water and energy and cause economic instability worldwide. Increased cost and low affordability, both on the part of customers and salons themselves, has a significant impact on salons: traditional treatments such as wet cuts, blow-drying and hair dyeing are still available, but are much more expensive. As a consequence, there is a growth in mobile hairdressing in customers’ homes, where the customers bear the costs of water, heating and lighting. The sector polarises into salons that offer expensive treatments for special occasions; those that offer a reduced service; and low-cost mobile hairdressers.

Social partner actions

Based on these scenarios, we set out a number of recommendations for the social partners of the types of actions that they might want to put into place to deal with future developments in their sector. These include: n Action at EU level. There is already an active and well-functioning social dialogue at EU level in the hairdressing sector. This forum could be usefully employed as a tool for the discussion of further issues that are likely to remain a concern in the future in the sector, such as training and development, career progression, working hours, and possibly also pay.

  • Monitoring dialogue between employer and employee representatives. Keeping a watching brief on relevant developments will help the social partners to anticipate changes and trends more effectively. It would therefore be useful to establish and maintain a dialogue at sector level (where possible) in order to monitor change and develop ways in which to respond.
  • Best practice exchanges. One way in which to learn from other countries is to set up a series of best practice exchanges, possibly in the form of seminars and workshops in which selected national practices could be showcased.
  • SME networks. SMEs traditionally struggle to offer meaningful training and development to their employees, due to their small size and limited resources. One possibility would be for SMEs to form networks in order to participate in and offer training. These networks could also be used to purchase specific tools or products that would be too expensive for each small salon.
  • Engaging with new stakeholders. All four scenarios describe a changing world, with implications for a range quality of work and working conditions areas. In such a changing world, it will be important for the social partners to engage meaningfully with the different types of stakeholders that emerge. These could also include manufacturers of new products and technology and climate change and waste disposal advisors.
  • Organising differently to cope with polarisation of the sector. Most of the scenarios contain some kind of polarisation of the sector, either into large vs small salons, high-tech vs low-tech salons, or special occasion vs low budget salons. This is likely to be challenging for the social partners, who will need to think of ways to organise in a more polarised sector. Special sections or branches at national and EU level, catering to different sectoral needs, might be a way forward.