A bleak picture for the european workforce?
Authors: Stephen Bevan
07 June 2011
The recession has very clearly had severe consequences for the whole European labour market. With seasonally adjusted unemployment across the EU-27 standing at 9.9 per cent – a total of 22.5 million people out of work – the picture is looking especially bleak. Of course, some groups in the labour market have suffered more than others. While unemployment rates for older workers have grown at a slower than average rate, by April 2011 joblessness among younger workers had become one of the EU’s major policy priorities with unemployment among the EU-27’s under-25 year old workforce running at 20.3 per cent (44.4 per cent in Spain). This is an area where The Work Foundation is focusing as part of our Bottom Ten Million research.
So, what can be done to ensure that the young, women, people from ethnic minority groups and people with long-term health conditions are not disproportionately disadvantaged by the blight or ‘scarring’ of unemployment? Last week I participated in a workshop organised by Green Templeton College, Oxford under their Future of Work programme. Entitled Building an Inclusive Workforce in the Wake of the Economic Crisis the workshop asked a fundamental question of policy-makers, academics, employers and trades unions:
‘How and why should the European Union, and its member states, seek to establish an inclusive workforce in the context of economic recovery?’
The opening lecture was given by László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. He highlighted some of the Commission’s current priorities, including the Youth on the Move programme aimed at supporting youth labour mobility within the EU and next year’s European Year of Healthy and Active Ageing. The Commissioner also pointed to initiatives such as European Globalisation Adjustment Fund which, he observed, the UK had hardly accessed compared with other member states. The fund is intended to support redundant workers, mainly in regions and sectors which have been disadvantaged by exposure to the globalised economy. Mr Andor also highlighted the specific problems faced by people with chronic health conditions in the labour market, who often fall out of work prematurely. He focused on the 40 million EU workers who have work-related musculoskeletal conditions – an issue given strong prominence by The Work Foundation’s Fit for Work Europe project.
In another presentation Professor Guy Standing of the University of Bath spoke about the issue of temporary and casual work in modern western economies. His new book, The Precariat: A New Dangerous Class examines the difficulties associated with contingent labour. His views were challenged by Robbin Brugman, the MD of Randstad, Europe’s second largest Recruitment and HR Services provider. Mr Brugman argued that temporary work was frequently a choice made by workers who wanted to make transitions between sectors and career stages, and that the traditional conception of temporary work as ‘bad’ or insecure work was outmoded.
There were many excellent contributions from other eminent speakers, including Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly from Brighton University on different ‘breadwinner’ models in families across the EU, Professor Mia Gray from Cambridge University on gender inclusiveness in firms and Professor Duncan Gallie of Nuffield College Oxford on work intensification and mental health in the workforce. Professor Anton Hemerijck of the Free University of Amsterdam presented a compelling set of arguments for greater social investment as both a driver of productivity (eg through education and skills) and a contribution to the resilience of economies and welfare systems.
Throughout the event, it was reassuring to hear both speakers and participants make frequent reference to the need for Good Work. There was explicit acknowledgement that high levels of job quality provide people with the opportunity to be productive and healthy at work, and that Good Work is important to both dignity in the workplace and to a sense of purpose and meaning at work. These are all themes which our very own Good Work Commission has been exploring over the last two years and which will be reinforced in the final report of the Commission which will be published on 1 July this year.
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