While employers' organisations are mostly positive about the Commission's suggestions on labour-law adaptation (flexicurity), some trade unions doubt claims that levels of social protection will be maintained.
Ernest-Antoine Seillière, president of employers association BusinessEurope, did not elaborate much on the issue, saying: "Flexicurity provides the right framework to correct structural weaknesses on European labour markets. Member states must not miss this opportunity to create more jobs and provide more security."
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) stressed its readiness "to discuss a modern approach to reform, investing in lifelong learning, gender equality, social dialogue, collective bargaining and good quality jobs." It regretted however "the bias in the communication against the protection and stability of jobs, which is a key worker right as well as the basis for productive enterprises", adding that "reforms should complement and not replace job-protection systems with measures promoting transition into rewarding jobs".
ETUC went on to stress that "flexicurity must incorporate security as well as flexibility, backed by strong social protection. A stronger role for social partners and collective bargaining at both the European and national level is key."
ETUC General Secretary John Monks warned: "We are worried about the current expansion of precarious jobs in Europe. Giving companies more freedom to dismiss, which appears to be the core idea of the Communication, will only make matters worse. More and better jobs for all is the real solution to labour market segmentation and social exclusion, and not more precarious jobs for all."
Hans-Werner Müller, small-business association UEAPME secretary-general, said: "We are convinced that a comprehensive, tailored and integrated approach is the key to improving competitiveness and creating more and better jobs in the EU. The involvement of social partners at all levels is a prerequisite for success." He added: "The EC has put forward a number of interesting points for discussion on how to modernise employment relations while ensuring a good level of social protection. The ball is now in the court of member states, since they are ultimately responsible for reforming their labour markets to increase their performance. We trust that they will endorse a set of useful common principles at Council level."
Rainer Plassmann, secretary-general of CEEP, the federation of public employers and providers of services of general interest, said: "One of the most important outcomes of the analytical part just concluded by the social partners is the recognition of the role of high-quality public services in the development of effective labour markets and competitive economies. We call on the Commission and the Council to take full account of the proactive and central role of public services for the success of flexicurity strategies when following up the framework set up by the Communication with concrete guidelines for implementation."
Former Danish prime minister and Party of European Socialists President
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, said: "It is very positive that the European Commission is encouraging a debate on flexicurity, and I congratulate Vladimír Špidla for his initiative. Europe needs this debate because it is important to consider labour flexibility and worker security in parallel – not one, not the other but both at the same time."
Rasmussen added that "flexicurity is a social democratic innovation aimed at making our economies more competitive while creating high levels of social protection. Let us be clear on one fundamental point: flexicurity is a marriage of flexibility and security. If you want a worker to be more flexible you have to offer new forms of security. Any right-wing government that thinks flexicurity allows them to force workers to become more flexible while doing nothing to improve social protection is seriously mistaken."
Eurochambres, the European chambers of commerce association, has called flexicurity "a step in the right direction", but stressed, however, that a number of questions remain open:
- Eurochambres is concerned that open-ended contracts should be the overall reference norm. Non-standard contracts should not be considered abnormal by definition as they offer real opportunities and the possibility to bring "outsiders" back into the labour market.
- The system is not cheap: Denmark, the reference model for flexicurity, spends about 4.4% of its GDP/year on supporting and retraining the jobless, making it one of the most expensive labour-market policies in the world. How could the Flexicurity approach be financed in other countries?
On up-skilling the workforce and lifelong learning, Eurochambres Secretary-General Arnaldo Abruzzini added: "Training poses a particular difficulty for SMEs, as personnel are often their most valuable and limited resource. In order to enable real flexicurity, training – particularly in-company training – should be supported by public policy and investment, including encouragement for tax incentives."
Fintan Farrell, president of the Social Platform NGO alliance, said: "The Communication released today tries to come to terms with all kinds of compromises without giving a clear view on how it will shape a flexicurity model that citizens would trust." He added that, for the Social Platform, the flexicurity principles to be adopted by the Commission in December would have to clarify the framework that member states will build upon: "If we are really serious about making flexicurity work and reach a climate of trust, it needs to be at the service of social cohesion."
Eurodiaconia Secretary-General Heidi Martinussen added: "We...regret that the role of social NGOs is left virtually untouched in the description of pathways to Flexicurity." She added: "To achieve the goals set out by the Commission and empower individuals to take up an active life in society and to transit between different life and employment situation, it is vital to take an integrated approach where both social partners, public authorities and civil society is actively involved."
The European Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (Eurociett) welcomed the communication "as it recognises the inherent and positive contribution of temporary work agencies in implementing flexicurity policies". The asssociation also welcomed "the upcoming debate at European and national level on pathways to implement Flexicurity policy approaches in Europe, adding that "EU Member States should explicitly take advantage of the concept of flexicurity in labour market reforms and should recognise the positive contribution of private employment agencies to flexicurity policies".