Towards more dynamic, inclusive and resilient labour markets in Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Sonja van Lieshout is the Chair of the Employers Delegation of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue

Dr. Michael Freytag is the Public Affairs Manager World Employment Confederation-Europe

After two years, it has now become increasingly clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a reverberated effect beyond just the health sector. It has proven to be a key driver in reinforcing and accelerating several long-term labour market trends in European labour markets in terms of digitalisation and remote work, necessary skills, the rise of diverse forms of work and the need for social protection for all.

There are clear signs today that we are marching towards an economic and social recovery in Europe due to the progress on vaccination, the establishment of sanitary rules and the easing of containment measures. Simultaneously, we can also observe a need to move towards more dynamic, inclusive and resilient labour markets in Europe.

Against this background, both the World Employment Confederation-Europe and UNI-Europa, sectoral social partners for temporary agency workers, have now launched a set of joint recommendations on Covid-19 and our society’s march towards a more dynamic, inclusive and resilient labour market in Europe.

As an appropriately regulated industry, agency work has played a key role in keeping people in employment, managing transitions and fostering mobility, mitigating labour market risks and in enhancing labour market resilience. We have, therefore, made our expertise available to EU policymakers and national governments and proactively recommended a number of policies that could be acted upon.

To move towards more dynamic labour markets in Europe, we will need to create an enabling environment for labour market transitions and make use of temporary work agencies’ ability to facilitate reallocations and support workers’ transition across sectors.

Mirroring the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights’ Action Plan, our recommendations have also called for ensuring social protection and adequate social rights for all through social purpose and social innovation.

Moreover, we have underlined the need to move towards more inclusive labour markets by focusing labour market policies on managing and mitigating labour market risks. Workers must be at the centre of all policies covering access to training and skills policies. In the context of the skills policies to address the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have also put a strong focus on the benefits of non-formal and informal learning and the important role of the private employment services industry in fostering labour market matching, skills intelligence and training.

Finally, we must highlight the central role of sectoral social dialogue in fostering resilient labour markets and in supporting both workers in companies in a volatile labour market environment. This request was underlined in the 2021-2023 Sectoral Social Dialogue Work Programme that will influence work on the better application and enforcement of the Directive on temporary agency work.

We would also argue that special focus should be devoted to national initiatives and good practices that focus on compliance and enforcement. Compliance and enforcement are in the interest of the temporary agency work industry, but it is equally important for the sector to ensure a level-playing field and to avoid any unfair competition to the detriment of workers. We will also continue to monitor the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and related policies, contributing to more dynamic, inclusive and resilient labour markets.

Covid-19 was a stark reminder of the necessity to develop dynamic, inclusive and resilient labour markets. The Ukrainian war has unfortunately only served to reinforce this notion with several World Employment Confederation-Europe members reporting on rising numbers of refugees entering European labour markets. We believe that it is our duty to support these vulnerable people in any way we can. Supporting them in their efforts to find work opportunities, providing skills assessment and training opportunities can provide some form of hope and normalcy in these trying times.

The private employment industry is focusing on how it can lend its support to people affected by the war and, in particular, those displaced by the crisis. The employment opportunities provided by the agency work sector provide vulnerable people social protection and a much needed social safety net.

The World Employment Confederation-Europe members in the region are working to establish all necessary measures to protect permanent staff and agency workers, working in solidarity and support with relevant partners on the ground.

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