Europe’s future of work requires new safety nets

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How, where and when we work is changing rapidly. There are now many diverse forms of work. In addition to the challenges that this new world of work brings to our existing systems of labour legislation, lifelong learning, taxation and collective bargaining, its impact on our social protection systems is of particular concern, writes Michael Freytag.

Michael Freytag is the public affairs manager, World Employment Confederation-Europe.

Our social systems are becoming increasingly mismatched with the new world of work. Be it workers who are self-employed or hired on fixed-term contracts, those deviating from the traditional pattern of full-time, permanent employment, are at risk of missing out on social protection.

All workers deserve some predictability, whatever form of work they choose. For future labour markets to be truly inclusive and sustainable, we will need to create new safety nets.

On 9 April, the European Commission organised a high-level conference to understand the transformations that are changing the world of work and discuss how Europe’s employment and social policies must evolve to fit the reality of today and tomorrow. In the year in which the European institutions will start a new mandate and the International Labour Organisation celebrates its centenary the time is right to rethink our social model.

The current European Commission has already made remarkable progress in advancing European policy debates on these issues. The European Pillar of Social Rights proclaimed in 2017, sets the overall framework for social protection and labour market reforms in Europe.

It includes 20 principles – and notably principle 12 which underlines that “regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship, workers, and, under comparable conditions, the self-employed, have the right to adequate social protection.”

This notion has recently been translated into a Council Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed, which includes a call for the transferability and portability of social protection rights.

European discussions must take place against a backdrop of international policy developments. In January 2019, the International Labour Organisation’s Global Commission on the Future of Work concluded its research by issuing a new report “Work for a Brighter Future”. Its conclusion is clear: we need to reinvigorate the social contract and move to a human-centred agenda.

At the World Employment Confederation-Europe, we share this call for a new social policy based on a worker-centred model, not an employer-centred one. This should feature portable safety nets, including individual social accounts, portable rights, peer to peer communities and labour market intermediaries.

The private employment industry in Europe has already developed solutions demonstrating how diverse forms of work and security can go hand in hand:

Access to training and skills development is facilitated through bipartite training funds and apprenticeship schemes; Social funds, such as the French Fastt, provide agency workers with access to housing, health insurance, transport and childcare; andaccess to mortgages and credit for agency workers is eased thanks to a special scheme developed by the Dutch federation for temporary work agencies.

These new ways of learning, working and providing social protection are what we call “social innovation”. Many of the best practices developed in our sector have been driven by social partners through a constructive, sectoral social dialogue at national level.

At the World Employment Confederation-Europe, we believe that social innovation is the pathway upon which Europe should embark to reform employment and social policies. Policy-makers should capitalise on the best practices already implemented by the social partners in the private employment industry.

As part of our European Sectoral Social Dialogue on temporary agency work, we have recently launched a new joint project with UNI-Europa, our trade union counterpart.

Through a series of workshops and seminars, the project will look at case studies and national practices of social innovation in the area of access to training and access to social protection, while also analysing the role of social partners as a catalyst for social innovation.

Over the next 18 months, we hope to engage in a discussion with experts and stakeholders and use the project’s findings to foster further social innovation in Europe.

Social innovation is in the DNA of the private employment industry and lies at the core of our Vision Paper “Making Europe the best place to work!” launched ahead of the EU institutional changes happening this year.

Pathways are proposed for reform at national level alongside proposals for EU policy actions for: providing access to work, developing business services, enabling learning and career progression, working in security through new safety nets and maximising the potential of labour market intermediation.

With these recommendations and cooperation amongst all stakeholders, we are convinced that we can truly make Europe the best place to work.

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