No future of work without social innovation

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Futureproof labour markets must embed social innovation, writes Denis Pennel.

Denis Pennel, managing director, World Employment Confederation-Europe.

Labour markets have undergone significant change over the past decade and all indications are that this will accelerate in the future.

In order to respond to these shifts and make labour markets fit for the realities of life and work in the 21st century we need a complete overhaul of the social structure underpinning the way that we organise, classify, support and regulate work. Only by creating open, enabling, inclusive and sustainable labour markets can we drive the growth and competitiveness needed for our economies to flourish.

Europe has already taken a lead in many of these areas thanks to the European Pillar of Social Rights, unanimously endorsed by the EU Employment Council at the end of last year and proclaimed by all three EU institutions.  The Gothenburg concluding report served to frame the follow-up of the Summit at last month’s European Council.

Its 20 key principles, structured around the three categories of equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion, support much of the ambitions of the employment industry manifesto.  We must ensure that EU regulation is better enforced and introduce further legislative initiatives around some rights and principles in order that they are effective.

The planned launch of the European Labour Authority next year will serve to strengthen cooperation across labour markets and help to deliver a fair internal labour market.

Well-functioning labour markets need policies that meet the needs of business and industry while also upholding worker’s rights and protections. For companies, social innovation is essential. It allows them to remain agile and prosper, confident in the knowledge that they can attract and retain a workforce with the relevant skill sets. For workers it means portable rights, new types of collective representation, access to housing and credit as well as pensions and sick pay throughout their lives.

We need to revisit some of the core premises on which our social protection systems are founded. Newly emerging forms of work need to be classified – are workers employees or self-employed? Either way these dispersed and online workers must be organised and represented and assured of decent and safe working conditions. At the same time we must support workers in managing risks such as periods of inactivity, sickness and pensions while also protecting the most vulnerable workers in our society including young people, older workers and ethnic minorities, and avoiding unfair competition and social dumping.

Broader concerns such as preserving data privacy and providing life-long learning and career support throughout working lives also need to be addressed. Here are five policy recommendations, extrapolated from the newly launched manifesto No future of work without Social Innovation”:

  • secure and equal access to the labour market through diverse forms of work including flexible contractual arrangements that avoid unfair competition, support all workers equally and stimulate job creation;
  • a fair job for all with a guarantee of meaningful and decent working conditions regardless of the type of employment contract, with worker’s rights respected and upheld along with their entitlements including pay and health and safety conditions;
  • a new social deal with the modernisation of social protection schemes to reflect new work models. Social benefits including health, pension, sick leave and paid holidays should be transferrable and linked to individuals, not their work. Labour market security needs to be favoured over job security and we must rethink social protection funding in order to provide these securities;
  • skills and taking a strategic approach to training people with the skills to succeed in the labour market, teaching both hard and soft skills as well as implementing lifelong learning and upskilling/reskilling;
  • responsible labour market intermediation, with organisations to guide and support workers and work closely with companies in matching supply with demand. Fostering close cooperation between public and private employment services is essential as is ensuring that quality standards and regulations are enforced in all markets including cross border.

I am confident that by taking action to deliver these now we can build a futureproof labour market that celebrates its biodiversity and safeguards a European work environment that is open, enabling, inclusive and sustainable.