The Tripartite Social Summit, comprising employers, trade unions and SME associations, stressed that at a time of crisis, enhancing labour market inclusion - finding effective and creative ways to get people back to work – is key to restoring economic growth.
The partners delivered a framework agreement in which they "commit to taking concrete actions to help disadvantaged people to enter, remain and develop in the labour market".
Suggested areas in which measures can be taken include "vocational training, apprenticeships, recruitment, transparency and information regarding competences, available jobs and training programmes".
Meanwhile, European SMEs have argued that the much-vaunted EU priority of flexicurity needs to be rejigged if EU leaders are serious about tackling the crisis.
There is no time to lose, Lilian Bolozinskis, director for social affairs at SME association UEAPME, told EurActiv.
There is an urgent need to rethink flexicurity principles and adapt them to the crisis, she argued, as the recession has distorted the way flexicurity works. Due to the squeeze on labour markets, half of European workers currently have no flexibility in their working arrangements, and the other half have too much, in that they lack any form of job security and face a precarious 2010.
"We need to remove this polarisation," Bolozinskis said. The UEAPME director believes the EU's flexicurity principles remain valid, but a number of measures should be launched to get labour markets back on track.
Transitions and training: Germany good, France bad
Specifically, she stressed the need to improve training measures, particularly for SMEs. In other words, in countries such as Germany, where short-term work schemes have been put in place as a safeguard against mass unemployment, it is imperative for workers to be able to combine their reduced work hours with the right training programmes.
Without these improvements in quality and accessibility, the EU risks a prolonged period of weakness in the EU job market, the UEAPME chief said.
Secondly, the issue of transition between jobs needs to be tackled. In a time of crisis, it is crucial to keep people employable so they can move easily to a new job within a company, or to a new organisation. This is also linked to training, explained Bolozinskis.
She noted that in many countries, and notably France, the training and transition measures built into short-term working schemes are too complicated, whereas in Germany and Austria "they are doing better as the social partners are more reactive".