EU social partners reach agreement on inclusive labour market

In March 2010, the EU-level cross-sector social partners presented a new joint agreement on achieving an inclusive labour market. The agreement sets out the main challenges and develops a range of actions that the social partners can take to help disadvantaged people to enter, remain and develop in the labour market. The member organisations of the signatory parties have three years to implement the agreement, and an implementation report will be drawn up in 2014.

On 25 March 2010, the EU-level cross-sector social partners presented a joint autonomous framework agreement (863Kb PDF) on inclusive labour markets. The parties involved included the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (Centre européen des entreprises à participation publique et des entreprises d’intérêt économique général, CEEP), the employer organisation BusinessEurope and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Union Européenne de l’artisanat et des petites et moyennes enterprises, UEAPME).

This is the fourth intersectoral autonomous agreement to be concluded by the EU-level cross-sector social partners, following previous agreements – on telework in 2002 (EU0207204F), stress at work in 2004 (EU0410206F) and harassment and violence at work in 2007 (EU0705019I). Autonomous agreements are implemented in accordance with Article 155(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This latest agreement was concluded in the context of the social partners’ joint work programmes for 2006–2008 and 2009–2010.

Aims of agreement

The agreement sets out to provide a general framework, focusing on what can be done to enhance labour market inclusion. It has three main aims, namely to:

  • consider access, return, retention and development, with a view to achieving full integration of individuals in the labour market;
  • increase awareness, understanding and knowledge of employers, workers and their representatives of the benefits of inclusive labour markets;
  • provide workers, employers and their representatives with an ‘action-oriented’ framework to identify obstacles to inclusive labour markets and solutions to overcome them.

Main obstacles to an inclusive labour market

The agreement identifies a non-exhaustive list of potential barriers to an inclusive labour market, all of which have the potential to affect the full integration of individuals into the labour market. These potential obstacles are:

  • the availability of information about jobseekers and about the jobs that are available;
  • recruitment-related obstacles such as recruitment methods that do not attract a wide diversity of applicants;
  • training-related obstacles – for example, investment in or access to learning opportunities is identified as important, as is recognition of individual skills, competences and professional experience, and the match between the offer of training and the needs of the labour market;
  • the responsibilities and attitudes of employers, workers, their representatives and jobseekers;
  • working life issues such as working conditions and work organisation, work-life balance policies and career development prospects.

Potential social partner actions

The agreement lists the relevant actions that the social partners could take, as follows:

  • organising awareness-raising campaigns and action plans to improve the image of economic sectors or occupations;
  • organising awareness-raising campaigns and tools to promote the diversity of the workforce;
  • disseminating information about the availability of jobs and training schemes;
  • cooperating with the third sector – that is, charities and voluntary, not for profit or non-governmental organisations – to support those who have particular difficulties in relation to the labour market;
  • cooperating with education and training systems to better match the needs of the individual and those of the labour market;
  • implementing specific and effective recruitment methods and induction policies and ensuring the right working conditions;
  • introducing jointly agreed individual competence development plans for workers;
  • improving transparency and transferability for workers and for companies;
  • promoting more and better apprenticeship and traineeship contracts.

Key recommendations

The annex to the agreement contains a list of recommendations to public authorities and other actors, urging them to design and implement comprehensive policies to promote inclusive labour markets, in the following areas:

  • the extent and quality of specific transitional measures for people who encounter difficulties in the labour market;
  • the effectiveness of employment and career advice services;
  • education and training;
  • the adequacy of investment in territorial development;
  • access to transport, care, housing and education;
  • starting, sustaining and expanding businesses;
  • tax and benefit systems.

Commentary

Creating an inclusive labour market is at present a key concern for the European social partners, and one that is particularly relevant in the currently difficult economic climate. In a joint press release (93Kb PDF), the signatory parties note that with the EU unemployment rate currently at 9.5%, ‘urgent and determined action is needed. Europe cannot afford such a waste of talent. Europe must make full use of its labour force potential, improve job quality and increase employment rates in the face of demographic ageing’. The member organisations of the signatory parties have three years to implement the agreement, and an implementation report will be drawn up in 2014.

Andrea Broughton, Institute of Employment Studies (IES)

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