EU states to clinch 'flexicurity' agreement
Eight common principles on flexicurity are likely to find unanimous approval when EU social affairs ministers meet in Brussels on 5 December. The Council's expert groups endorsed the Commission's approach to addressing EU labour market problems by combining more flexible contractual agreements with employment security.
On 15 November, the Council's employment and social protection committees sent their joint opinion on flexicurity to Portuguese Labour Minister José António Vieira da Silva, who will preside over the employment and social affairs Council meeting next Wednesday in Brussels. Both committees stress that the Communication "is a most welcome contribution that should inspire member states in the establishment of their priorities and measures in this reform process". They add, however, that flexicurity "is not an end in itself [...], nor does it require new processes".
The committees recommended the following common principles on security, set to be adopted by the Council on 5 December:
- Flexicurity is a means of reinforcing the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy, create more and better jobs, modernise labour markets, and promote good work through new forms of flexibility and security to increase adaptability, employment and social cohesion.
- Flexicurity involves the deliberate combination of flexible and reliable contractual arrangements, comprehensive lifelong learning strategies, effective active labour market policies, and modern, adequate and sustainable social protection systems.
- Flexicurity [...] should be tailored to the specific circumstances of each member state [...] Based on the common principles, each member state should develop its own flexicurity arrangements [...]
- Flexicurity should promote more open, responsive and inclusive labour markets overcoming segmentation. It concerns both those in work and those out of work [...]
- Internal (within the enterprise) as well as external flexicurity are equally important and should be promoted. Sufficient contractual flexibility must be accompanied by secure transitions from job to job. Upward mobility needs to be facilitated, as well as between unemployment or inactivity and work [...]
- Flexicurity should support gender equality [...]
- Flexicurity requires a climate of trust and broadly-based dialogue among all stakeholders [...] While public authorities retain overall responsibility, the involvement of social partners in the design and implementation of flexicurity policies through social dialogue and collective bargaining is of crucial importance.
- Flexicurity requires cost-effective allocation of resources and should remain fully compatible with sound and financially sustainable public budgets. It should also aim toward fair distribution of costs and benefits, especially between businesses, public authorities and individuals, with particular attention to the specific situation of SMEs.
The Commission's Communication on flexicurity, adopted on 27 June 2007, attempts to map out possible solutions for member states to provide more and better jobs and tackle the labour-market challenges of the 21st century.
The Commission sought to avoid giving the impression that it was trying to impose certain measures on member states. Instead of singling out individual countries' deficiencies, it chose to define common challenges that European labour markets must tackle. These include:
- Demographic shifts, and most notably ageing populations, which mean that the financing schemes for retirement will not work as they have done previously;
- the growth of Europe's increasingly skills-based service economy, while traditional employment in crafts, manufacturing and farming declines;
- the increasing segmentation of labour markets across the EU, which leads to parallel labour markets for high and low-skilled workers, with little chance for them to climb the career ladder, and;
- globalisation, which puts pressure on the low-skilled labour market.
In an Open Letter to the Socialist Group of the Parliament, the left-wing GUE/NGL group spoke of increased 'flexploitation' of workers in Europe. Despite "a number of improvements" achieved so far in the draft report on flexicurity by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Open Letter insists that Parliament must put much greater stress on getting the review of the guidelines package focused more on promoting the quality of employment, improving social security and social inclusion, better social risk management and the reconciliation of work and non-work life.
Italian GUE/NGL MEP Roberto Musacchio said that "flexicurity-related injustices are simply being ignored and airbrushed": "We are against atypical work contracts that primarily affect women and young people. We want to see decent jobs become the norm; stable and secure. It is only in this way that we'll be able to give the concrete and real response to the jobs problem sought by young people and women in particular".
29 Nov.: Parliament vote on Christensen Report on Common Principles of Flexicurity