The World Employment Confederation Europe believes that social innovation is the right approach for designing a new European employment strategy and for reinventing ways of working, learning and ensuring social protection to fit the new world of work, writes Bettina Schaller.
Bettina Schaller is the president of the World Employment Confederation – Europe.
The employment rate of people aged 20-64 rose to 73.2% in 2018, the highest level ever reached in the EU. Unemployment is at its lowest in ten years. 13 out of the 14 indicators of the social scoreboard have improved over the last year while youth unemployment continues to go down and is now below 15%.
Unquestionably, these are positive labour market developments as highlighted by the Draft Joint Employment Report and the 2019 Annual Growth Survey published by the European Commission on 21st November 2018. But more should still be accomplished to ensure that labour markets truly benefit all European citizens and countries in the same way. Labour laws, welfare systems and tax regimes have indeed lagged behind the changing world of work.
Jobs are much less likely to last for life, to start at nine or to end at five; far more women take paid work; far more households are headed by a single parent, etc. Within the EU, permanent, full-time contracts only account for 58 percent of the total workforce.
Yet, our social protection systems are still built on the traditional male breadwinner model based on the full-time, permanent worker paying contributions. The growing mismatch between the world of work and our social systems puts Europe at risk of missing out on talents, losing competitiveness and weakening social integration.
In its Annual Growth Survey, the European Commission rightly calls for social protection systems that provide security to all types of workers, facilitate transitions between jobs and statutes, foster mobility and flexibility, while better tackling labour market segmentation. Further structural reforms to build new safety nets reconciling the growing needs for both flexibility and security are urgently required.
Instead, we are currently witnessing several governments adopting more restrictive regulations regarding agency work and the private employment industry, hampering the sector’s role in supporting job creation and inclusion in the labour market. In 2016, the World Employment Confederation Europe’s members helped 3.74 million young Europeans to enter the labour market.
Our contribution goes beyond this stepping stone role. As an industry, we can further enable work, adaptation, prosperity and security if the EU adopts a new focus and strategy to adapt to the increasing diversity in forms of work.
With the 2019 European elections and the taking office of a new European Commission, the EU has the opportunity to make such a shift happening during the next five years. By 2024, Europe should offer a framework for labour markets that allows companies to contract their workforce under diverse and legally secured arrangements and to easily source and hire the right talents with the right skills.
EU citizens must be able to transit between different jobs and forms of work, without worrying about their pension rights or entitlement to unemployment benefits. Individuals need to be better equipped and empowered to stay relevant to the labour market as they embrace life-long learning.
The World Employment Confederation Europe believes that social innovation is the right approach to enable this vision and lead to new ways of working, learning and ensuring social protection. Social innovation-powered reforms must be implemented at the national level in five areas:
- Diverse forms of work must be encouraged. Adapting labour contracts to the diversity of the European workforce’s needs will enable inclusiveness and offer opportunities to all.
- Implementing smart regulation and strengthening the Single Market would enhance the competitiveness of business services providers and allow them to be effective labour market advisers to European businesses.
- EU citizens must be better empowered to navigate a changing world of work. Skills strategies and policies, both at European and national level, should aim at fostering learnability and employability. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, several countries have successfully implemented initiatives with dual learning and apprenticeships whose effects could be replicated thanks to the exchange of best practices at EU level.
- Protection systems must be adapted to the new realities of work, promoting transferrable and portable rights so that security is guaranteed even as employment status changes.
- The potential of all labour market intermediaries should be maximized. Cooperation between public and private employment services could be strengthened through the creation of a European Memorandum of Understating.
These are just some of the recommendations that we are detailing in our 2024 Vision Paper “Making Europe the best place to work”. In view of the 2019 institutional changes, the World Employment Confederation Europe is calling EU policymakers to embark on this agenda of social innovation and design a strategy that would support member states in reforming their labour markets while at the same time capitalising on the European Social Model and the benefits of the European integration process, such as the free movement of workers and services.
The employment industry is ready to play its part in developing such innovative solutions. And it has already started to do so. Social innovation is in our industry’s DNA. Policymakers should capitalise on the best practices that have been developed over the past years by our sector, on our own and through social dialogue.
On 5 December, some of our members will come to Brussels to present the solutions they developed in their country and to discuss with policy-makers, trade unions and civil society how to take this further in line with our 2024 Vision. We look forward to involving as many stakeholders as possible in this debate so do not hesitate to join the event and help us make the EU the best place to work.