Job market integration: pandemic puts disadvantaged at greater risk

While the responses and measures in favour of the inclusion of vulnerable people are as varied as the profiles of vulnerable people are different, one constant emerges: that of the need for vocational training, apprenticeships and access to education. [VGstockstudio/shutterstock]

The COVID-19 health crisis makes it even more difficult for disadvantaged people, who already struggle in normal times, to be integrated into the labour market. Could a paradigm shift be the solution? EURACTIV France reports.

The health crisis came about at a time when “we were on a path of progress that has seen more than 30% of disabled people employed in companies with more than 20 employees in five years,” said Didier Eyssartier, director-general of Agefiph, an organisation that works to include people with disabilities in the workplace.

“Disability is a real obstacle to integration, the current challenge is not to have more of it. The fear we may have today is a brake linked to the economic crisis, there will certainly be employers with other concerns in mind,” said Eyssartier.

This fear applies to people with disabilities – but not only.

There is no common definition of what a disadvantaged person is, as it often refers to people with very different realities: people with disabilities, as well as those who are illiterate, without qualifications, living below the poverty line, single women, the long-term unemployed.

New EU strategy must ensure equality in workplace, stakeholders say

The European Commission has pledged to increase gender equality in workplaces across Europe. Stakeholders have now urged the EU to make sure the COVID-19 pandemic does not impact the progress on workplace equality.

This is a very heterogeneous group, whose members have one thing in common: they are at greater risk than the rest of the working population of finding themselves on the margins of the labour market, meaning they are therefore socially excluded.

“The most vulnerable are the most exposed to the economic crisis,” said MEP Sylvie Brunet (Renew), member of the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL).

The main challenge is to ensure that they find or regain “a dignified, stable and sustainable job”, said Green MEP and member of the EMPL committee, Mounir Satouri. In other words, by getting them out of precarious jobs, fixed-term contracts and temporary agency contracts where they are over-represented.

Brunet, Eyssartier and Satouri were speaking at a virtual conference organised by EURACTIV on 28 October, where they discussed the integration of disadvantaged people in the labour market.

Access to training, the keystone of social integration

While the responses and measures in favour of the inclusion of vulnerable people are as varied as the profiles of vulnerable people, one constant emerges: that of the need for vocational training, apprenticeships and access to education.

“It is absolutely necessary to guarantee basic training and skills to ensure the integration of disadvantaged people into the labour market,” said Brunet. She added that tackling illiteracy is also crucial, recalling that 5% of the French population cannot read and write.

For his part, Eyssartier pointed to today’s disabled job seekers being “much older than the general public, as 50% are over 50. “They are much less qualified than the general public. Only 35% have the baccalaureate, against 50% of the unemployed in general,” he added.

Need for a paradigm shift

Improving access to vocational training and apprenticeships for disadvantaged people cannot, however, be the only means of effectively helping them find a job or return to the labour market.

“The health crisis is revealing anomalies, inequalities and structural problems in the labour market, both in Europe and in France,” said Brunet.

The Renew MEP recalled that Europe was founded on the single market concept underpinned by a liberal philosophy, meaning it would have “much less concern for social and environmental issues”. However, she also called for opening up the recovery plan to other sectors, such as the social and solidarity economy, in order to combat long-term unemployment more effectively.

According to Satouri, the current coronavirus crisis is two-fold. “There is a health crisis, the crisis of COVID-19, but also a crisis of our economic model. The dominant economic model has left millions of Europeans on the sidelines,” said the Green MEP.

“The whole issue of public policy is to know what concrete and effective measures are being put in place to enable a return to employment,” he continued.

“The relocation of industrial jobs in Europe and the ecological conversion of the economy is ultimately the real issue,” he added.

Social investment cannot be left behind in the Just Transition Fund 

As policymakers, our task is to ensure that no one will be left behind in the energy transition and that the effort of transition will be fairly shared, writes Mounir Satouri.

Mounir Satouri is a French Member of the European Parliament …

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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