ETUC and UNICE respond to new Employment Guidelines

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European employer organisation, UNICE, have adopted their positions on the new Commission Employment Guidelines for 1999 (eu9810130F) issued in October 1998. Both organisations emphasise the importance to pursue economic, social and labour market policies which are mutually re-enforcing. However, with regard to the nature and shape of these policies, opinions diverge significantly. ETUC supports the development of a co-ordinated growth and employment-friendly macro-economic strategy where verbal commitments in relation to job creation are backed up by financial commitments. UNICE, on the other hand, emphasises the need for a continuance and strengthening of the structural reforms implemented in many Member States in the run up to the deadline for the EMU convergence criteria. Employment and employability is to be encouraged through greater labour market flexibility and the lowering of indirect labour costs without setting quantitative targets.

The 1999 Employment Guidelines put forward by the European Commission in draft form on 14 October 1998 emphasised the need for continuity and called on Member States to build on the progress made under the 4 main pillars of action:

  • employability
  • entrepreneurship
  • adaptability
  • equal opportunity

Both ETUC and UNICE, in their responses issued in late November and early December respectively, welcome the element of continuity in the new Guidelines. Both underline their unwavering commitment to the fight against unemployment and argue that economic, social and labour market policies need to be mutually re-enforcing. However, while ETUC calls for the development of a co-ordinated growth and employment-friendly macro-economic strategy which backs up verbal commitments with financial resources, UNICE would like to see a continuation and strengthening of the structural reforms implemented by many Member States in order to meet the convergence criteria for EMU. Employment, it is argued, can only be created if business formation is encouraged and bureaucratic, fiscal and legislative hurdles removed.

ETUC and UNICE also disagree on the question of targets in relation to the implementation and outcomes of labour market policy. Employer organisations remain strongly opposed to the setting of any quantitative targets, both in relation to employability and lifelong learning. Workers' representatives, on the other hand would like to see a further specification of targets. It is argued, for example that:

  • a deadline should be set for ensuring that at least 20% of the unemployed are offered training or any similar measure, this training should take place within four years, as with the long-term and youth unemployment targets;
  • over the same period, a target should also be set for increasing the percentage of the employed labour force receiving training: this should be 5% (rather than the current 3.4%);
  • the guideline on reducing school drop-out should be quantified, with the target being zero drop-outs;
  • a specific guideline should be added promoting job rotation schemes since these can both give training to employed workers and work experience to unemployed workers.

In relation to the adaptability pillar, UNICE emphasises that decisions in relation to work organisation must remain with individual undertakings, while ETUC recommends the reduction of working time as a means of safeguarding and creating jobs.

Priorities also differ on equality questions. ETUC emphasises the importance of achieving equal pay and a reduction in the gap in unemployment rates between men and women. In order to improve the reconciliation between work and family life, ETUC calls for an increase in child care places by 20% per year in countries yet to reach the levels of the best 3 performing countries. UNICE, on the other hand advocates the promotion of part-time work and other flexible forms of work on a voluntary basis.

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