In the context of increased international competition, employers have voiced the need for a more flexible and adaptable workforce, while workers seek job security as well as more flexible working time arrangements.
Flexible work patterns have an impact on the quality of work and employment but also on the quality of life in general. They can be positive for all parties - companies, workers and their families - if they are the subject of negotiation and if provisions are made to make them socially acceptable.
In 2006, the Commission issued a Green Paper on labour law in which it invited reflections on how labour law might be modernised. The paper specifically addressed issues related to different kinds of contracts and the flexicurity challenge.
What does flexicurity mean?
Flexicurity can be defined as 'an optimal balance between labour market flexibility and security for employees against labour market risks'. The European industrial relations dictionary provides a definition and details on the European policy context.
According to the Foundation paper Varieties of flexicurity: reflections on key elements of flexibility and security, the key element that links flexibility and security is trust: if people can have trust in change, they might in the future be willing and able to work under more ‘flexible’ terms. A successful flexicurity model is based on employment security, accompanied by the necessary social provisions when out of the labour market. This paper points to different national formulas for flexicurity:
- a first approach is the flexibilisation of the whole workforce. This includes the 80% of workers in traditional, permanent work or with ‘typical contracts’. There are two main ways of implementing this flexibilisation: through new ways of organising work or through more diverse or flexible working time arrangements. At the same time, this should be complemented with some form of employment security.
- a second approach is the normalisation of the rights of ‘atypical’ workers (e.g. fixed-term contracts, temporary contracts, part-time contracts) while retaining the flexibility of these forms of contract.