Social dialogue as a driver in shaping and improving employment and working conditions in the EU
23 June 2014, Athens, Greece
What role can social dialogue play in improving employment? According to economist and Nobel prize winner Sir Christopher Pissarides, the specific areas where social dialogue can add the most value, particularly in a crisis, are ‘measures that concern learning, such as training programmes for the unemployed – in that context, social dialogue could do a lot because it could bring together employers and workers’ organisations where the needs are most urgent, where there is a willingness to cooperate.’
Professor Pissarides recently delivered the keynote address on the subject of the social state in a climate of austerity (96 KB, PDF) at a high-level conference organised by Eurofound in cooperation with the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The conference Social dialogue as a driver in shaping and improving employment and working conditions in the EU took place in Athens on 23 June 2014.
Scandinavian social model
The Scandinavian social model has worked well to support citizens during the economic downturn, but Professor Pissarides noted that this model has not been taken up as a blueprint by other Member States. Commenting on the challenges of transferring such a model, he said, ‘What is needed primarily is trust in the public sector that it can do the right thing. Second is willingness to pay higher taxes for redistribution, which means more concern about inequality of income and poverty than what we find in other countries like the United States, for example. Once you satisfy these two criteria, you could have success.’
EU unemployment benefit
Recently, the European Commission has advocated establishing a mechanism for fiscal transfers across Member States to better enable them to withstand economic shocks. In particular, a basic EU unemployment benefit scheme could provide a short-term stimulus for countries going through an economic downturn and minimise the social impact.
Professor Pissarides supports this stance, saying, ‘In Europe, we try to avoid these transfers due to the Maastricht criteria. Finding ways that would be acceptable to both European governance and transferred money is essential. We cannot do it by buying each other’s debt; I don’t think that is sustainable.’ He added, ‘The Cohesion Fund and Structural Funds are doing this to some extent but we need to see more. We are no way as close as the United States, where the federal government gets revenues from all states and then spends it collectively.’
Any job or no job?
As many countries are seeing increases in long-term unemployment, Eurofound asked the professor whether any job was better than no job. He responded, ‘any job that it is acceptable to a worker, I mean, if a worker wants to do a job that an employer is allowed to offer to a worker, that job should be allowed to come to the market.’ Referring to the mini-jobs scheme in Germany – marginal employment that allows workers to earn up to €400 a month exempt from income tax and insurance payments – he explained that this anti-recession policy is particularly helpful to workers, as once they have a temporary job it is much easier to convert it into long-term employment.
Sir Christopher Pissarides is Regius Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Professor of European Studies at the University of Cyprus.
About the conference
This one-day conference brought together around 100 participants, including representatives of government ministries, national and European social partner organisations, the European Commission, international organisations, as well as experts and members of the academic world. The event aimed to draw lessons from the crisis and look to the future of social dialogue and its impact on employment and working conditions in the EU.
Although there are signs of recovery from the crisis, European labour markets and social conditions remain challenging. In the first phase of the crisis, social dialogue showed resilience. However, as the crisis progressed there has been evidence of weakening social dialogue and an exacerbation of trends such as the decrease in the number of agreements and a fall in union membership.
The event was therefore an important forum for participants to hear about the challenges partners in different Member States have faced and to look at the way they have tackled various issues such as unemployment – particularly, youth unemployment – the vulnerability of low-skilled workers and social exclusion.
Welcome messages were delivered by Ioannis Vroutsis, Greek Minister of Labour, Social Security and Welfare, and Juan Menéndez-Valdés, Director of Eurofound.
Download the programme and presentations Updated 26 June 2014