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Have your say on reinforcing social Europe

The European Commission continues to consult on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, with a focus on assessing the EU social acquis, reflecting on new trends in work patterns and societies, and getting feedback on the outline of Pillar itself. Eurofound has generated a wealth of evidence on topics central to the Pillar including minimum wages, gender equality, youth employment, platform work, and an ageing society, and provides an essential knowledge source for the EU institutions, Member States and social partners as they implement the Pillar in 2020 and beyond.

So what more do you need to know?

On 14 January, the European Commission published A strong social Europe for just transitions, a Communication setting out its social policy ambitions and describing the challenges to be overcome. It underlines the necessity of adapting ‘our economy, our industry, how we travel and work, what we buy and what we eat’ in the light of climate change and environmental degradation. Europe’s new growth strategy – the European Green Deal – aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, a goal to be achieved through new investments, businesses and jobs. The two other principal drivers of change cited are demographic ageing and digitalisation, which will shape the labour force, what we produce and how we produce it.

For all the challenges this represents, the Commission insists that future generations should enjoy opportunities to thrive, and that inequalities – in income and in access to healthcare, care services and education – must be addressed: ‘They affect all countries and all Europeans. It makes sense to face them together.’ How should this be done?

Socially just and fair strategy

The answer, says the Communication, lies in implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar aims to bring fairness to the daily life of citizens; it is the social strategy to ensure that the transitions of climate neutrality, digitalisation and demographic change are socially fair and just. The Pillar, which was proclaimed by the European Parliament, Council and Commission at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, in Gothenburg in November 2017, consists of 20 principles and rights, grouped under three headings: equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion.

But how will these principles be put into practice? The EU institutions, Member States, social partners and other stakeholders share responsibility for implementation – supported by a Social Scoreboard of indicators, which tracks trends and progress. The Communication sets out a range of initiatives over the next year and promises a detailed action plan in early 2021.

Eurofound aims to make a significant contribution to implementing the Pillar, not least to the specific initiatives to be launched over the next year. Our mandate requires the Agency to support the EU institutions, Member States and social partners with evidence – and the means to share knowledge – to help shape policies for better living and working conditions. To achieve this, Eurofound conducts comparative research in all the fields covered by the Pillar’s twenty principles, much of it based on its Europe-wide surveys.

It is no surprise, then, that the Pillar is referenced throughout Eurofound’s 2020 work programme on topics as diverse as working conditions, social dialogue, gender equality, the inclusion of people with disabilities, and monitoring convergence.

Minimum wages

Among the specific initiatives mentioned in the Communication, one, the launch of the first-stage consultation with the social partners on possible European action on fair minimum wages, is already under way. This is a topic where Eurofound has a well-established track record. In addition to annual reporting on adjustments to statutory minimum wages in Member States, Eurofound reports on important developments in collectively agreed minimum rates in countries without a statutory system and on debates about changes to systems of minimum wage-setting. Eurofound has also researched the scope for establishing a European approach to minimum wage-setting, and explored the concept and practice of a ‘living wage’.

Gender equality

Another initiative scheduled for the first quarter is a new European Gender Equality Strategy, to include binding pay transparency measures as well as steps to close the pensions gap, to promote women’s access to the labour market and to crack the glass ceiling. Of immediate relevance is Eurofound’s 2018 report Pay transparency in Europe, which will be complemented soon by new findings on the costs of implementing gender pay transparency measures. But this is just one of many contributions on gender, which include publications on women in management, funding of female entrepreneurship and discrimination against men at work, and a forthcoming 2020 report on gender equality at work. This body of research underlines that we remain far from gender equality, despite the increased participation of women in employment over the last decades. Employment rates are still lower for women in all Member States, women and men are employed in different occupations and sectors of activity, and under different contracts, and are subject to different working conditions and job quality.

Youth employment

In the second quarter, the Commission will present its proposals to reinforce the Youth Guarantee, aiming to support young people in developing skills and gaining work experience, with a particular focus on the green and digital transitions. Eurofound has almost a decade of findings to support this work, beginning with the 2012 report that highlighted the growing population of NEETs – young people not in employment, education or training – their characteristics and the severe adverse consequences for the individual, society and the economy, including an estimated loss of €153 billion to the EU economy. This and subsequent research contributed to the development of the Youth Guarantee. In 2021, an update to the findings will be published in the report Social situation of NEETs: 10 years on.

Eurofound has also researched the policy approaches taken to address long-term youth unemployment, which range from preventative and reintegrative approaches to structural reforms that aim to remove barriers to young people’s labour market access.

Platform work

In the third quarter, concerns about the working conditions of platform workers will be discussed at a Platform Work Summit, with topics expected to include employment status, social protection and access to collective representation. Platform work is highly diverse and still developing, and not all of it deserves to be labelled poor quality. Eurofound’s publications on platform work have identified different types of platform work and analysed the most prevalent types in detail as regards employment and working conditions. One of the main complications is the disputed classification of workers’ employment status – which is crucial for defining workers’ rights and entitlements.

Eurofound has also developed an online repository, which makes available information on the development of platform work, and the implications for employment, working conditions and industrial relations, including examples of initiatives to address problematic features.

Ageing society

In quarter four of 2020, the Commission will publish a Green Paper on ageing, another topic on which findings from a range of Eurofound projects are relevant. Although recent years have seen a significant decline in unemployment among older workers, hiring rates also declined, and this group is disproportionately likely to exit from employment into sickness/disability, retirement or inactivity. Eurofound has mapped measures to retain and reintegrate older workers in the labour market, preventing health-related exits and skills obsolescence. Flexible working options (spatial, working time and functional) are an important part of making work sustainable.

For the millions of Europeans who are working beyond retirement age, institutional arrangements may need to be adjusted. The report Income from work after retirement in the EU highlights, among other issues, the need to tackle gender income gaps not only throughout working age, but also in the case of work after retirementSchemes designed to allow partial retirement may not always be equally accessible to women.

When it comes to the quality of life, broadly speaking, older generations fare better than younger age groups in western Europe, while the opposite is the case in eastern Europe. Although research suggests that there could be cohort effects and younger generations in the east may not encounter the same circumstances as their elders, these differences have also been observed in previous waves of Eurofound’s European Quality of Life Survey. This suggests persistent challenges to certain age groups and raises issues around the effectiveness of social protection.

Insecurity about having an adequate income in old age is high across most countries and most social groups. There are country differences, and larger proportions of women, in particular separated and divorced women, than men indicate these concerns. Eurofound’s study on the non-take-up of social benefits shows that, even if adequate income could be ensured by establishing minimum pension levels, or basic pensions, non-take-up is high for some such schemes, thus limiting their actual impact.

Projects in the pipeline

Eurofound will be ready with policy-relevant research findings when attention turns to other elements of the Pillar in late 2020 and 2021. This will include ongoing work on social dialogue (including studies on the representativeness of the European social partners and on capacity-building for effective social dialogue) and job quality (where new data from the 2020 European Working Conditions Survey will provide evidence on the job quality of workers across occupations, sectors, contractual statuses and so on).

Eurofound also has a growing body of work on access to quality public services, emphasised in a number of the Pillar’s principles. For improvements in services to be evidence-based, there is a need for appropriate indicators on process and quality, relevant to both short-term and long-term outcomes.

Long-term care, particularly home-care services in the community, appears minimal or absent in half of EU countries. The financial and economic crisis had an impact on the availability of formal care services.

The 2016 European Quality of Life Survey found that informal care is provided by significant proportions of the adult population to relatives or friends with care needs based on old age, frailty or disability (15% of men and 20% women provided care at least once a week). Informal carers require support to sustain and improve the quality of their efforts.

Even though the availability of formal childcare services in the EU has increased over the last decade, the services may not be reaching the groups that might benefit most. Cost is a greater barrier to use of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services than lack of places, distance or opening hours.

In the field of monitoring convergence of Member States in living and working conditions, Eurofound’s research uses an extensive set of indicators going beyond the headline indicators of the Social Scoreboard. Particular attention is given to the three domains of the Pillar, where Eurofound will contribute by providing regular updates on upward convergence at European and regional levels in the dimensions mentioned in the Pillar and the Social Scoreboard.

Projects in the medium term

Into the medium term, Eurofound will continue, through its programme for 2021–2024, to produce relevant findings to support implementation of the Pillar: gathering data to serve as a baseline for assessing the impact of initiatives such as the Directives on work–life balance of parents and carers and on transparent and predictable working conditions; identifying different forms of self-employment; supporting social dialogue; contributing to discussion on minimum wages and to initiatives promoting fair, decent and transparent wages; to monitoring the Directive on working time; and to monitoring convergence in the dimensions of the Pillar.

The recent Communication underlines, as does the Pillar itself, the need for many political and social actors to contribute if genuine progress is to be made. They will need sound evidence to support this endeavour. Eurofound is uniquely placed to provide this evidence and looks forward to making it available.

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Il est possible que des recherches effectuées avant le retrait du Royaume-Uni de l’Union européenne le 31 janvier 2020 et publiées après cette date incluent des données relatives aux 28 États membres de l’UE. À compter de cette date, les recherches ne porteront, sauf indication contraire, que sur les 27 États membres de l’UE (UE-28 moins le Royaume-Uni)

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