Study: Europeans ‘becoming more mobile’

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The number of Europeans commuting long hours to work or even working abroad has risen in recent years, according to a study presented on Friday (17 October). For some, being mobile even appears to be the only way of avoiding unemployment and social decline.

Almost one in two working Europeans has experience of job-related mobility. But it would mostly seem that this is a result of necessity, as the majority (53%) are reluctant to become mobile or are only willing to do so within very strict limits. The results come from the first representative study on job mobility presented by the Green MEP Sepp Kusstatscher. For this study, the researchers interviewed 7,220 people aged 25 to 54 in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and Switzerland. 

Among those EU citizens that are mobile, 41% are long-distance commuters and spend at least two hours each day on their way to and back from work, according to the report. Another 29% spend at least 60 nights a year away from home due to business trips, such as weekend commuters or seasonal workers. 

Only a minority (14%) actually moved for their job and even less (4%) took a job in a EU member state outside their home country. However, figures are considerably higher than prior to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, when only around 1.5% of EU citizens worked and lived abroad. 

Businesses struggling with a lack of high-skilled labour have repeatedly called on EU governments to encourage more mobility, but some member states, including Germany and Austria, still restrict the free movement of labour from countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 (EURACTIV 18/07/08). 

Nevertheless, the study appears to signal that high-skilled workers are now largely benefiting from open borders. By contrast, older and less educated people in particular remain strongly opposed even to relocating within their home country, the report shows. 

As a general rule, commuting to a distant workplace poses less of problem to many Europeans, the report shows. “People are searching for compromises between distinct emotional ties to their home region and the labour market’s requirement to become mobile,” the authors argue. 

But for one in four commuters, mobility is also “the last chance to secure their livelihood,” said Professor Anna Giza-Polesczuk, one of the authors of the study. 

For women, the need to be mobile poses another constraint. Unlike mobile men, they tend to remain childless and even partnerless, the report argues, calling on politicians and businesses to develop new strategies to encourage mobility and at the same time minimise its “negative consequences”. 

The report also calls on employers to take on their share of the costs of increased mobility, allowing their workers more flexibility regarding their working hours, by working more from home, for example. 

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