EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Approaches towards the labour market integration of refugees in the EU

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This article reviews the current debate among social partners and governments about how to integrate asylum seekers into the EU's workforce. While employers claim that refugees could help to address skill shortages, unions are concerned about the consequences for the working conditions of both the refugees and lower-paid segments of the existing workforce.




In recent months, intensive efforts have been made by the EU and its Member States to find solutions to migratory pressures caused by instability in countries close to the EU borders to the south and south-east. According to Frontex, the agency that manages Member States’ cooperation on borders, more than a million people entered the EU in the ten months between January and October 2015. Many of them were asylum seekers trying to escape atrocities in their countries of origin.

EU Member States have affected to varying degrees. Some countries have mainly had to deal with organising the refugees’ reception and onward transit while other countries have been in the position of final destination for refugees. In this context, some countries temporarily suspended the Dublin III Regulation (1 MB PDF) whereby asylum seekers have to apply for asylum in the first Member State they enter, hence making it possible to process asylum claims anywhere within the EU instead of sending asylum seekers back to their point of entry. 

The debate about the relocation of asylum seekers remains heated. On 20 July 2015, EU interior ministers agreed  to the relocation of 32,256 people as a first step. In September 2015, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers adopted a decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece. This decision established a temporary and exceptional relocation mechanism, valid for two years, from Italy and Greece to other Member States. The Member States participating in the scheme will receive a lump sum of €6,000 for each relocated person. Denmark and the United Kingdom opted not to participate in this action. In the meantime, the EU and many of its Member States are intensifying efforts to establish an effective, humanitarian and safe European migration policy.

From a legal perspective, it is important to make a distinction between an asylum seeker and a refugee. An asylum seeker is a person who has applied for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees on the grounds that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of a particular social group if they return to their home country. This person remains an asylum seeker for aso long as their application, or an appeal against refusal of the application, is pending. A refugee is an asylum seeker whose application has been successful.

The debate extends beyond issues such as relocation, access, quotas and how to organise the reception and influx of asylum seekers. There is already some evidence – both at European and national level – that actors are starting to think strategically about ways to facilitate both the social and economic integration of refugees. In October 2015, the European Economic and Social Committee organised a conference to debate the challenges in integrating refugees (2MB PDF), during which the key factor identified was legal access to the labour market. The European Commission is currently mapping the situation in the EU in relation to the implementation of Directive 2011/95, Article 26 on access to employment, and Directive 2013/33 setting out standards for the reception of asylum seekers (this came into force in July 2015). There is some evidence that various labour market actors in a number of Member States are also discussing at national level how best to implement initiatives and regulatory changes to facilitate the labour market integration of refugees and asylum seekers.

This article is largely based on contributions from Eurofound’s network of European correspondents reporting for EurWORK.

Moves towards labour market access 

According to Article 15 (1) of Directive 2013/33/EU, Member States must ensure that asylum seekers have access to the labour market no later than nine months after they apply for international protection (provided that the applicant has not caused the delay). Each Member State can set the conditions for granting access to the labour market in accordance with its national law but must guarantee the applicant’s effective access to the labour market. The Directive allows Member States to prioritise access for EU/EEA citizens due to labour market policies.

In practice, the length of time between applying for international protection and accessing the labour market differs between Member States (327KB PDF). It ranges from less than one month (for example, in Greece or Sweden) to 12 months or more (for example, in Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or the United Kingdom). In Ireland, asylum seekers are not allowed to enter the labour market until a final decision has been made on their application.

Reducing waiting times to access work

Several countries, such as Germany and Hungary, have reduced waiting times. Moves to reduce the waiting time have been reported in Belgium, Luxembourg and Finland. In Belgium, the Minister of Employment and Economy proposed cutting the waiting period from six months to four: following discussions among the social partners, an agreement was adopted by the Belgian federal government.

The Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs recently proposed that asylum seekers should be allowed to work immediately after claiming asylum, instead of having to wait for three months (or six months if they lack identification). The government presented a ‘Programme on asylum policy’ on 8 December, stating that it will investigate ways of speeding up access. However, it is still unclear when, or whether, the proposal will be implemented. 

A number of Luxembourg support organisations, including the foreign workers’ rights group (ASTI), are calling for a cut in the current waiting period of nine months. According to newspaper Luxemburger Wort, the Employment Minister supports the idea of a six-month wait. He also suggests that processing applications should be speeded up, and has stressed the need to help refugees overcome language barriers and to access services.

Fast track for workers with skills in demand

In Germany, the Christian Democratic Party and the Green Party are keen to allow refugees apply for the European Blue Card, designed for highly qualified workers who want to work within the EU. The Federal Employment Agency (BA) claimed that this was particularly necessary in sectors with large regional labour shortages, such as healthcare or construction. The Social Democrats have also suggested that asylum applications refused by the authorities should be reconsidered if the applicant can show that they would be able to get a job if they had the legal entitlement to work.

Public discussion in Slovakia centres on fears that foreigners will get employment while Slovakian citizens remain unemployed. In 2011, a bill was passed to provide asylum for highly qualified workers using the blue card system. However, according to the Migration Information Centre, only eight cards were issued in 2013.

The Swedish government proposed increasing administrative resources for the Swedish Public Employment Service (PES) between 2016 and 2019, specifically to support the integration of asylum seekers in the labour market. The government has also envisaged providing funding to fast track access into the labour market for asylum seekers qualified to work in sectors where there is a shortage of educated and experienced personnel. In September, the first fast track approach, for chefs, was launched by the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union (HRF) and the Swedish hospitality industry (Visita), in partnership with the PES.

Removing other obstacles 

Debates about labour market access for asylum seekers have taken place in Austria and Denmark. Although the Austrian government seemed willing to expand asylum seekers’ access to the labour market, no political steps have yet been taken. The effect of wages on social benefits and how this influences the incentive to work was also part of the debate in Austria. The Danish government has decreased social benefits for asylum seekers.

The discussion on integrating asylum seekers into the Austrian labour market has been high on the agenda for the last few months. Currently, employment for asylum seekers in Austria is limited to several options such as seasonal work in certain industries, non-profit work, and certain types of self-employment. In 2013, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) shelved its initial reluctance and proposed to help asylum seekers access the labour market. Employer organisations have demanded that asylum seekers can take a job vacancy if no Austrian, EU citizen or recognised refugee is available to take the job after it has been vacant for three months. They argue that despite the country’s increasing unemployment rate, Austria is confronted with a skills shortage. In autumn 2014, the government signalled its interest in expanding labour market access for asylum seekers but without taking away jobs from other unemployed workers. Representatives of charitable organisations have long requested that asylum seekers be granted unlimited access to the labour market six months after they have applied for asylum.

However, Austria's Social and Labour Minister has not shown any willingness to renegotiate the current regulations on asylum seekers’ access to the labour market, citing the high national unemployment rate. At the beginning of July 2015, the Social Ministry presented a sensitive national study conducted by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research on the integration of asylum seekers into the Austrian labour market (in German, 1.5MB PDF). The results show that a full opening of the labour market for asylum seekers would lead to a slight and short-term increase in the unemployment rate. No political steps have so far been taken and it seems unlikely that this will change in the near future. The country’s unemployment rate (5.9% in Q2 2015 according to Eurostat) is at its second-highest level since 1953 and is forecast to rise in 2016. An additional obstacle to employment for asylum seekers in Austria is that wages are adjusted to take account of the amount of money they receive from the state (primary care) and so their income in many cases may not increase if they get a job, hence removing the incentive to work.  

Most of the debate in Denmark has been about the number of asylum seekers the country should host. There has, however, also been some debate on how to ensure that asylum seekers are quickly integrated into the labour market. The new government passed a bill lowering social benefits for asylum seekers and migrants in a bid to motivate them to seek work. There has been heavy criticism of a recent decision to pay a bonus to persons who complete a Danish language course.

Many organisations in Germany, among them the Federal Employment Agency (BA), the Federation of German Industries (BDI), the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) and several political parties, have called on the federal government to change specific immigration regulations in order to make it possible for refugees to be employed more quickly. As it stands, asylum seekers have to wait many months before they can start working in Germany. This is because:

  • priority is given to EU citizens;
  • regulations for highly qualified and skilled third-country nationals can be relaxed only in certain professions;
  • the procedures for validating foreign qualifications are slow.

Social partners' positions on the refugee crisis

Social partners in Finland, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have issued statements on the migrant crisis. Generally speaking, they support measures aimed at helping asylum seekers and integrating them into the societies and labour markets of Member States. In Finland in September, a joint statement condemning racism was published by the following organisations: Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland (Akava); Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK);  Commission for Church Employers; Local Government Employers (KT); Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK); Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK); and Office for the Government as Employer (VTML). Calling for tolerance, shared responsibility and mutual understanding, the statement states that immigrants must be greeted with dignity and respect. It also says that Finland will increasingly need the help of a foreign labour force and declares that all employees in the country should have the same rights, responsibilities and obligations.

The Swedish social partners, in collaboration with the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), have signed a petition regarding social partners’ responsibility to find solutions for the establishment of asylum seekers in the Nordic labour markets with fair conditions.  The trade union confederations promised to actively take part in the national debates regarding job creation opportunities for asylum-seekers and to encourage others to introduce measures in this matter. However, it is difficult to formulate concrete steps as a result of the petition itself. NFS argues that more initiatives must be taken to facilitate the establishment of asylum-seekers on the labour market through shortening the validation processes for education and experience in combination with more language training. NFS also stresses the need for interregional cooperation within the Nordic region and the need for an exchange of experiences between Nordic countries. 

French unions are unanimously declaring that France should welcome migrants. The French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC) has asked its members to support a charity set up to help refugees and migrants in general. Unions are also asking for a permanent revision of the Dublin III Regulation. In September 2015, the unions CGT, FSU and Sud called on members to support a human rights demonstration organised by the National Council of Political Struggle against Poverty and Social Exclusion (CNLE). However, political parties seem to be frightened that a too-favourable policy towards migrants will increase support for the extreme-right National Front party. A September 2015 poll suggests that only a small majority of French citizens (53%) agree that refugees should be welcomed. Eurotunnel shuttle drivers, who belong to the union CGT, have written an open letter describing their stressful working conditions – more than a dozen migrants have died in the tunnel since June 2015.

In Luxembourg, employers from the hotel and restaurant sector and the craftworkers’ organisation (Fédération des artisans) seem to be open to the prospect of employing refugees. The workforce in these sectors are often already quite multicultural. In an interview with the newspaper Luxemburger Wort, representatives of the food, beverage and hospitality sector employers said that there were as many as 800 skilled vacancies in the sector. The federation of artisans added that it could also help refugees find work provided that applicants had the qualifications required. In September, the National Committee of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Luxembourg (OGBL) adopted a motion on the refugee crisis in Europe calling on Member States to respect the Geneva Convention which forbids sending refugees who fear persecution back to their country of origin. The Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (LCGB) union has expressed its solidarity with refugees (in French) and has appealed to Member States for more solidarity.

Criticism of EU political response to crisis

The Spanish and Portuguese social partners have criticised European policy on asylum seekers. In early September 2015, the Spanish General Workers’ Union (UGT) said Europe was not offering humanitarian aid, was not fulfilling international conventions and was dealing with immigration as if it were a crime.

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) has criticised EU decisions and guidelines, including the decision to reintroduce border controls and select people with high qualifications and skills. CGTP argued that immigrants and refugees do not threaten the rights and living conditions of workers in Portugal or in the European Union and called for several measures to be adopted, including penalising violations of refugees’ rights. The General Union of Workers (UGT) stressed the need to achieve consensus at European level to make an urgent response to the plight of refugees possible. UGT also mentioned its commitment to act jointly with other organisations to receive and help refugees coming to Portugal, to ensure their integration and to help them achieve fair and decent living and working conditions.

Policy proposals

Bulgarian trade union confederation CITUB proposed a number of measures (in Bulgarian) to manage the transition and reception of asylum seekers. They suggested that the government should adopt an Annual Action Plan for the implementation of the Council of Ministers’ new National Strategy on Migration, Asylum and Integration (2015–2020) adopted in 2015 and called for the establishment of an institution designed to manage migration processes. Moreover, the confederation wants the government to insist on the suspension of the Dublin Regulation and the introduction of a permanent quota mechanism for the redistribution of refugees between Member States.

Czech employers’ confederation SPČR released an official statement on the migration crisis (in Czech, 566KB PDF). SPČR supports the European Commission’s intention to establish a platform for dialogue with social partners on economic migration and the revision of the blue card system, and insists that illegal employment should be controlled with the help of existing tools and measures at national level. It believes there is no need for any new standardised EU-level controls on migration.

In September 2015, Spain’s UGT and CCOO trade unions asked the Spanish Government to organise a meeting of the social partners to work together on refugees’ labour integration. Representatives of trade unions and opposition political parties called for a demonstration in September to ask the European Union and Spanish Government to show solidarity with asylum seekers. The Ministry of Employment and Social Security announced that Spain was willing to welcome all the refugees allocated by the European Commission, with all legal, health and safety guarantees. The Government agreed with trade unions and employers’ representatives that the integration of refugees in the labour market is essential for their inclusion in Spanish society. An additional measure was included in the Annual Plan of Employment Policies specifically aimed at labour integration. This plan was to be agreed with the social partners and representatives of autonomous communities.

The main French employers’ organisation MEDEF announced in September that it would put forward proposals to ensure a more efficient inclusion of refugees. MEDEF is still working on this issue.

Actions supporting the integration of refugees into EU labour markets

Across the EU, there have been a number of initiatives and proposed or announced legal changes supporting the integration of refugees into the labour market.

Phased-in wages scheme

The Danish government proposed introducing ‘phased-in wages’: paying a wage well below the sectoral minimum wage which could make it attractive for the employer to hire refugees. However, the two employee confederations, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Professionals in Denmark (FTF), are against this, saying it will keep refugees in poverty. They say the only way of helping migrants enter the labour market is through education and up-skilling. Denmark’s employer representatives, the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA), the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) and the Danish Chamber of Commerce, were not in principle against such a scheme, but they pointed out that wage-setting was solely a matter for the social partners through collective bargaining. One scheme already in place is the so-called ‘staircase’ model, directly aimed at introducing refugees to the Danish labour market in a step-by-step process. In the first step (four to eight weeks), the competencies of the individual refugee are identified and Danish lessons provided; in the second step (26–52 weeks), the trainee is placed in an enterprise (at no cost to the employer) and given additional Danish lessons. After this, the refugee is ready to take a job with a wage subsidy. Employers are lukewarm about the phased-in wage proposal, because the second step in the current scheme costs the employer nothing, and the third stage costs the employer less than would the proposed phased-in wage.

Training, coaching and other active labour market policies

Luxembourg, Austria and Portugal reported initiatives to train refugees and to support their integration into society and the labour market.

In Austria, the Vienna branch of the Public Employment Service (AMS) is running a five-week pilot course programme for 1,000 unemployed people entitled to asylum, and is providing individual coaching. The object of the course is to determine participants’ qualifications in order to make use of them on the Austrian labour market (including recognition of degrees from foreign universities ).

In Estonia, the government adopted an action plan in August to quickly integrate refugees into employment. The most crucial labour market intermediary is the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. Asylum seekers have the right to access services designed to enhance the employability of job seekers. Additionally, the plan includes housing support, an adaptation programme, personal support service and language learning. In October the Estonian parliament also discussed migration policy. The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL) announced that it had discussed the issue of integrating migrants and asylum seekers into the labour market. However, the Estonian Employers’ Confederation argues that the position of asylum seekers in the labour market can’t be discussed when their skills and competencies are as yet unknown, although the confederation has agreed that adaptation programmes are a key part of successful labour market integration for migrants.

German employers are willing to employ young refugees as trainees/apprentices, but have complained about the Bundestag’s decision in July 2015 to grant residence initially for only one year. They say this leads to huge insecurities for both trainees and the companies (in German). On 29 July the federal cabinet announced an arrangement which enables young asylum seekers to find an internship position more easily and enter the labour market in that way (in German).

In order to motivate employers to hire refugees, the employers’ association of Baden-Württemberg has proposed promoting language tuition, qualifications acquisition and further education. The German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH) called for better training in advance of any apprenticeships offered, especially in the area of language skills (in German). The Federal Minister of Economics, Sigmar Gabriel, proposed investing parts of the tax surplus into training programmes for refugees. The German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (BDA) has said that language courses and preparatory educational courses were crucial in helping to make refugees eligible for apprenticeships. The German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall) announced a mentoring programme to support refugees in their search for an appropriate job (in German). On 2 October, the Federal Employment Agency (BAdecided to provide special funding for language classes until 31 December (in German). The funding is restricted to 2015 and has the potential to reach 100,000 refugees. The overall costs are still unclear as they depend on the number of refugees involved, but BA estimates the cost at between €54 million and €121 million. The decision was driven by the The Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) and the BDA, both board members of the employment agency. An amendment to the Act on the Acceleration of Asylum Procedures (Asylverfahrenbeschleunigungsgesetz) paved the way for this decision. Nevertheless, several German labour market experts urged the social partners not to be too euphoric about the refugees’ potential, as there was still very little information about the qualifications level of the asylum seekers. Federal Labour Minister Andrea Nahles expects the unemployment rate to increase in the next few years because of the influx of refugees and is keen to provide the BA with more support.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Social Security and Labour (SADM) is planning to establish three centres for the integration of foreigners in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda. The centres will provide Lithuanian language and civil orientation courses, legal and psychological counselling, consultancy, social assistance services and measures to help refugees enter the Lithuanian labour market. The services of the integration centres will be available to foreign holders of residence permits in Lithuania, including those relocated from other EU countries. SADM and employer representatives agree that knowledge of the Lithuanian language is essential for the successful integration of foreigners both into the labour market and in Lithuanian society. For this reason, a 190-hour Lithuanian language course will be provided to every refugee arriving in Lithuania. One more possibility under consideration is to provide vocational training (including language classes) for refugees who wish to acquire a profession.

In Poland, the most relevant government document regarding migration issues is the draft Policy for integration of foreigners: propositions and guidelines (in Polish). This was presented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in September 2013 but has not yet been made binding. Parts of it focus on the issues of labour market integration and employment of refugees and asylum seekers. There is also a reference to the National Employment Action Plan 2012–2014 (in Polish, 703 KB PDF) which includes a chapter on foreigners under international protection and their integration in the labour market.

In Portugal, a protocol between Lisbon Municipality and Portuguese NGOs establishes the provision of housing for refugees and access to the municipality’s services for training, education and integration into the labour market. The municipality will also provide support in the process of recognition and validation of refugees’ educational and professional skills. There is also a protocol between the Portuguese Refugee Council and HR Mais (a human resources management company) which aims to create job opportunities for refugees. Refugees’ independence and self-sufficiency are the main goals of this initiative.

Direct targeting of employers

Employer organisations in the Czech Republic, Finland and Germany have published information for employers who may be interested in employing asylum seekers.

In the Czech Republic, the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic (SPČR) issued updated information on the migration situation (in Czech) and its consequences for the Czech labour market., including some statistical information showing that the profile of asylum seekers in the Czech Republic is different from that of migrants in the main European destination countries: nearly half of the asylum seekers come from the Ukraine and only 7% of them come from Syria. Nevertheless, SPČR gives practical and structured advice (in Czech) to employers if they want to employ foreigners and asylum seekers.

In Finland, EK has also offered information for employers on their website regarding the rules and regulations concerning the employment of asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the BDA and BA are jointly promoting the recruitment of refugees by providing additional information for companies (in German).

Ensuring decent working conditions and equal treatment

In Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy and Malta, discussions regarding asylum seekers have highlighted the need to ensure decent working conditions.

In Belgium, the emphasis was on ensuring compliance with labour and wage conditions. Concerted action within the regions is expected for the C permit (a work permit valid across all salaried professions for all employers for one year, and renewable). The trade unions stressed the importance of parity on pay and other working conditions, saying that refugees should never be used as cheap labour and that wages for existing citizens should not be lowered.

In the Czech Republic, the October tripartite meeting was dedicated to the working conditions of foreigners (particularly asylum seekers). All social partners at the meeting agreed that refugees must have the same working conditions as Czech citizens. Any exploitation of refugee workers would be resolutely prosecuted (in Czech)

In answer to concerns that a ‘cheap’ labour market would emerge in Finland, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) recently published a memorandum on immigration (in Finnish), stressing that asylum seekers are eligible for the same working conditions as other employees.

Several German trade unions fear that refugees could be exploited (in German) and have reminded the social partners that labour laws, such as those fixing the minimum wage, were also applicable to asylum seekers. Statements by several politicians and the employer associations have implied broad agreement that this should remain the case, although there has been comments from some quarters that the integration of refugees might be easier if deviations from the minimum wage were initially allowed.

In recent years, the debate on asylum seekers’ participation in the Italian labour market has been framed in the context of the illegal recruitment of agricultural workers for very low wages (‘gangmastering’). This practise is said to involve a significant share of the estimated one million Italian and migrant workers employed in agriculture, who often have to carry out work that is undeclared or under-declared in harsh conditions. The government and the social partners in the agriculture sector have focused on the need to improve controls and monitoring systems to secure workers’ rights. In September 2015, the government announced several measures to fight labour exploitation in agriculture. The government plans to make ‘illegal recruitment and exploitation of workers’ a crime, punishable by the seizure of property. Victims of exploitation would be indemnified by the state. The agricultural employers’ organisation (Coldiretti) has welcomed the Government’s proposals, while also pointing out that production costs and the price of crops are strictly related to the low wages of agricultural workers. The main trade unions in the sector have insisted that more controls and agreements would be necessary to prevent labour exploitation. They have asked the employers’ organisations to sign agreements to supervise the application of collective bargaining agreements throughout the whole food supply chain.

In Malta, most of migrant workers who arrived by boat from sub-Saharan Africa are employed illegally as temporary workers in the construction industry. Figures from the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) reveal that just 1% of migrants were legally employed in 2014. This situation has led to abuses, with some migrant workers complaining that they are often paid barely enough to buy food. The Maltese Prime Minister has proposed the obligatory registration of short-term migrant workers, with strict sanctions for employers who persistently fail to comply. The social partners have agreed with this proposal.

The President of the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises (GRTU), Paul Abela, said that an official register to set wage rates based on the statutory minimum wage would protect both workers and employers. He said that the system would also protect employers when workers do not honour their work commitments and leave half way through their work schedule, since an official register would enable employers to report such workers. The Malta General Workers’ Union (GWU) also approve this measure, saying that the register would similarly protect Maltese workers who might otherwise be forced to accept the poorer conditions forced on migrants. The Malta Development Association (MDA), representing the construction industry where most migrant workers are employed, stated it had no objections to registering migrant workers.

Summary and conclusions

Debates at European level about the distribution and re-distribution of the increased numbers of asylum seekers and refugees, and the partial suspension of the Dublin III regulation continue. In addition, debates about the next steps, such as labour market access and integration are already on the agenda among social partners and governments in many Member States.

Not surprisingly, the debates and initiatives are more advanced in those Member states where more asylum seekers have been received. A general absence of concrete debates about labour market integration in some Member States seems to be linked to a political reluctance to accept larger numbers of asylum seekers.

In general, the social partners have for the most part expressed support for the access and/or integration of asylum seekers into the labour market. Governments and social partners have put forward several proposals, including:

  • cutting the waiting period before asylum seekers are allowed to work;
  • giving fast-track access for those with required skills;
  • allowing phased-in wages below collectively agreed minima;
  • introducing active labour market policies that offer training and consultation services or that identify skills and skills needs.

In some Member States, these initiatives are promoted because governments and social partners see an opportunity to address skill shortages in the context of demographic change. This is particularly so among employer organisations which, in some countries, have targeted their affiliates with concrete information and support measures. Among unions, the main focus of concern has been the trade-off between lower wages that could help to ease labour market entry and the pressure this might exert on lower-paid segments of the workforce. The unions have consistently argued for the need to ensure decent working conditions for all and to avoid creating poverty traps for refugees or lower-paid workers.

Overall, the debates are multifaceted and ongoing. The few concrete initiatives agreed on are still at an early stage of implementation.

About this article

This article is based on contributions from Eurofound’s network of European correspondents relating to information received in the third quarter of 2015.

Further resources on individual employment relations can be found on the EurWORK homepage.

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