Commission lays down guidelines on flexicurity

In June 2007, the European Commission published its Communication on flexicurity, which reflects the outcome of its consultation with relevant stakeholders. Flexicurity policies aim to create a more flexible workforce, while ensuring employment security for workers. The trade union confederation ETUC has expressed concern that flexicurity will place undue emphasis on workers’ flexibility ,while employer organisation BusinessEurope views it as an opportunity to modernise labour markets.

Common flexicurity principles

On 27 June 2007, the Commission proposed the establishment of common principles of flexicurity to ensure the creation of a more flexible workforce, while maintaining employment security for workers. The principles, which have been developed after extensive consultation with key stakeholders, identify the following eight areas, referred to as ‘flexicurity components’:

  • reinforcing the implementation of the EU strategy for jobs and growth and strengthening the European social models;
  • striking a balance between rights and responsibilities;
  • adapting flexicurity to the different circumstances, needs and challenges of the Member States;
  • narrowing the gap between those on non-standard employment contracts and those on standard open-ended contracts;
  • developing internal and external flexicurity, by helping employees to move up and across the career ladder (internal and external);
  • supporting gender equality and promoting equal opportunities for all;
  • producing balanced policy packages to promote climates of trust;
  • ensuring a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of flexicurity policies.

The intention is that Member States should be able to develop their own flexicurity strategies, suited to their national challenges. In some countries, for example, efforts might be focused on solutions within companies, while in others the focus could be more on transitions between jobs.

A Foundation report on Varieties of flexicurity: Reflections on key elements of flexibility and security also highlights the importance of the debate on flexicurity within the employment and social policy agenda. Moreover, at the four-yearly congress of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in May 2007, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Špidla, underlined that ‘flexible working arrangements are important to reap the benefits in a global economy, but we have to make sure that workers do not lose out in the process. Their call for greater security has to be taken on board and this is why the trade unions’ support is so important’ (Employment, social affairs and equal opportunities News report, 21 May 2007). Mr Špidla made these comments against the background of growing concerns among trade unions over the pace of change and consequences of more flexible working practices in Europe.

Views of social partners

In the view of ETUC, business in Europe is already experiencing high adaptability, with about seven million jobs being lost each year. In an information leaflet on the flexicurity debate (190Kb PDF), the trade union confederation expressed its concern that excessive flexibility will particularly affect vulnerable workers. In a press release on 5 July 2007, the General Secretary of ETUC, John Monks, underlined that ‘flexicurity risks are becoming an issue that could lead many workers to conclude that it is all about flexibility (easy hire and fire, tough conditions on eligibility for unemployment pay) and not much about security in jobs and employment’.

However, from the perspective of the European employer organisation BusinessEurope (formerly UNICE), flexicurity offers a ‘unique chance to modernise European labour markets’ and can create better conditions for growth and jobs. In a BusinessEurope response to the Commission Communication on flexicurity, the President of BusinessEurope, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, argued that ‘flexicurity provides the right framework to correct structural weakness in European labour markets. Member States must not miss this opportunity to create more jobs and provide more security’ (press release, 26 June 2007).

Results of Eurobarometer survey

The recent standard Eurobarometer 66 survey, which was carried out during the autumn of 2006, shows that EU citizens understand the need for adaptation and change, and that a majority of people support the introduction of more flexible employment contracts as a way of creating more jobs. Notions of a ‘job for life’ no longer appear to be dominant, and a close link is identified between lifelong learning and the ability to quickly obtain employment.

Background information on flexicurity

For background information on flexicurity, it may be useful to consult the 1997 Commission Green paper on Partnership for a new organisation of work (2.8Mb PDF), which emphasises the importance of both flexibility and security for competitiveness and moderation of work organisation (EU9707134F). The demand for employment security to balance flexibility in the labour market is also reflected in European social dialogue.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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