The higher turnout at recent European Parliament elections proves an increased interest of citizens in the European project. People care about freedom, peace and stability, but in a rapidly changing world of work, they are equally concerned about their well-being, fulfilling career paths and professional opportunities, writes Michael Freytag.
Michael Freytag is the European Public Affairs Manager at World Employment Confederation – Europe.
Six months ago, the World Employment Confederation-Europe, voice of the private employment industry in Europe, has issued a Vision Paper “Making Europe the best place to work!”, providing ideas to reform labour markets and to promote inclusive growth in Europe based on social innovation.
At the time, Europe was experiencing a period of economic growth and job creation in many European countries. While gross domestic product is still forecasted to grow by 1.4% in the EU this year, clouds are arising, and the economic outlook is now slightly less optimistic compared to the past years.
Such an outlook accelerates the need for economic and labour market reforms, to create more adaptable, inclusive and competitive labour markets.
Making Europe the best place to work requires first and foremost actions and commitments by the EU member states, national governments and social partners. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for achieving inclusive, dynamic and socially innovative labour markets in Europe.
But there are some ingredients that are essential for Europe in general. These include allowing for a diversity of labour contracts, fostering labour market intermediation by lifting unjustified restrictions on agency work and strengthening the services sector as a driver of job creation.
But also investing in skills and the employability of people, giving them hope and trust in finding new career opportunities. Some of these elements are also reflected in the Europe 2020 recommendations recently put forward by the European Commission to the EU Member States.
So, what should be done by the next European Commission to make Europe the best place to work?
A key element would be to foster social innovation, meaning creating new ways of working, learning and providing social protection to the benefits of workers, companies and the society at large. In the field of employment and social policies, this does often not mean new EU rules or directives.
A lot can be achieved by fostering the exchange of practices and mutual learning.
Five areas for actions at EU level are particularly relevant for the next five years. First, EU member states should be encouraged to reform their social protection systems. Social protection is often still based on open-ended, full-time contracts, while labour markets of today are characterised by a diversity of labour contracts and forms of work.
Creating new safety nets for diverse forms of work, ensuring the portability and transferability of social protection entitlements, should be promoted. The recently adopted Council Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed sets the right framework for these reforms.
The new European Commission should support the EU Member States in implementing this reform, focusing on mutual learning.
Secondly, the next European Commission should put a strong focus on creating dynamic and adaptable labour markets. This means progressing on the EU Better Regulation agenda, ensuring that new initiatives do not impose new and unjustified burdens on companies, but also fostering and encouraging labour market reforms at national level.
It will be key in this context to create a level playing field between diverse forms of work, which often means lifting unjustified restrictions linked to labour contracts and the provision of agency work services.
One of the biggest achievements of the European integration process is the European Single Market for services. But the single market is far from being complete. The next European Commission should thus take stock and strengthen the Single Market, taking also account of digitalisation and new ways of working and providing services.
Fourthly, in the area of skills and employability, there is an urgent need for action, supporting workers and young people to acquire the qualifications that are needed in the labour market.
The EU can support national actions in this area by designing well-targeted programmes and providing funding. The ERASMUS and ERASMUS+ programmes are excellent examples in this field. Supporting workers in acquiring new skills and fostering apprenticeships could also be framed by an EU skills agenda for the changing world of work.
And finally, what’s about EU labour law and social rights for workers? The outgoing Commission has achieved remarkable progress in this field.
The revision of the Posting of Workers Directive and the Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions are certainly among the most important, new rules in the field of employment and social affairs affecting the private employment industry. For the coming years, the focus should be on the implementation and enforcement of these rules.
Also, for the much-debated topic of online talent platforms, significant progress can be achieved by focusing on the correct classification of labour suppliers, as well as through the application and enforcement of existing EU law.