EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Fragmentation of the labour force

So-called ‘fragmentation of the labour force’ in Europe has resulted from an increase in forms of work and employment which differ from the ‘standard employment relationship’ of permanent, full-time, socially secure employment. Complementing the standard form of employment is the growth of part-time work, fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, homeworking, self-employment, casual work, seasonal work and other ‘non-standard’ forms of employment.

The EU has attempted to come to terms with the fragmentation of the workforce in a number of ways. In particular, it has extended the boundaries of EU labour regulation beyond the contract of employment to incorporate a wider range of employment relationships, and developed a policy on the distribution of working time, with an emphasis on part-time workers. The EU has also adopted a range of directives aimed at providing protection for workers in non-standard forms of employment. These are principally:

  • Council Directive 91/383 of 25 June 1991, supplementing the measures to encourage improvement in the safety and health at work of workers with a fixed-duration employment relationship or a temporary employment relationship.
  • Council Directive 97/81 of 15 December 1997 concerning the Framework Agreement on part-time work concluded by UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC
  • Council Directive 1999/70 of 28 June 1999 concerning the framework agreement on fixed-term work concluded by ETUC, UNICE and CEEP
  • Directive 2008/104 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on temporary agency work.

There are, however, a range of other types of employment relationship that can be classed as atypical and therefore part of the fragmentation of the EU labour force. Eurofound research on New forms of Employment (2015) identifies such practices such as employee-sharing, job-sharing, casual work, ICT-based mobile work, voucher-based work, crowd employment and collaborative employment. The research looked at these different forms of work, assessed where they are prevalent in Europe and analysed recent trends. The research concluded that a wide variety of new employment trends is emerging across Europe. While there is some heterogeneity across countries, nine broad types of new employment forms can be identified. These new employment forms have emerged following increased demand from employers and employees (or both) for enhanced flexibility. It notes that this demand is driven either by the economically challenging times or societal developments. Consequently, some of the employment forms discussed are opportunity-driven while others emerge out of necessity, and these drivers might differ between employers and workers.

See also: atypical work; casual work; crowd employment; economically dependent worker; employee; fixed-term work; flexicurity; ICT-based mobile work; job sharing; homeworking; part-time work; quality of work; seasonal work; self-employed person; social exclusion; temporary agency work; working time; work-life balance.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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