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General overview of sector

At present, for the purposes of European sectoral social dialogue, what is known as the “personal services” sector encompasses only hairdressing and beauty care. This sector is distinctive for its large number of (small) firms, generating well over a million jobs.

There are generally estimated to be about 400,000 hairdressing salons in the European Union (Marjolein Peters, Prim van der Valk, Le commerce de la coiffure dans l’Union européenne, en Norvège et en Suisse, EIM Small Business Research and Consultancy, Zoetemeer, 1999). These businesses generate a large number of jobs – 1,5 million, according to the European Commission – yet those in the trade believe it to be a significant branch of the economy that suffers from a lack of recognition.

Hairdressing is compared with the Horeca sector in some quarters, in that company structures range from a multitude of small, neighbourhood salons to some major international chains. Jobs in hairdressing and beauty care are generally regarded as highly skilled and are overwhelmingly occupied by women (more than 80%, according to the Commission). In the case of the major international hairdressing chains, salons are often run by a qualified manager assisted by young female entrants to the trade, who may be apprentices or even trainees. These young women therefore have to handle cosmetics and ingredients that may be harmful to their health (causing allergies or occupational diseases) at an age when they could become pregnant.

One also encounters numerous part-time jobs, self-employed workers (some operating as franchisees) and relatively low wages in this sector. Moreover, undeclared labour is widespread.

The sector has undergone some major changes over the past few years, including the emergence of new products and new techniques. But another trend worth noting is the sale of semi-professional products in supermarkets, prompting consumers to use these products themselves at home (e.g. hair dyes). This trend could pose health and safety problems, and is the reason why those in the sector argue that cosmetics should be handled by professionals only and that workers must be well trained. On this point, there is a lack of skilled personnel in some parts of the sector, particularly as a result of what is deemed to be inadequate vocational training. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that European social dialogue in the sector began by focusing on training, as well as health and safety issues.

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD