European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

Accueil > News > Employment has risen in the EU, but Benchmarking Working...

News

28 March 2019

Employment has risen in the EU, but Benchmarking Working Europe looks beyond the headline statistics at the reality of workers’ lives today

Europe’s good run of economic growth and job creation masks deep structural problems and an increasingly divided labour market. These are among the main findings of the 2019 edition of the ETUI’s Benchmarking Working Europe, which was officially launched in Brussels at an event on 26 March. First appearing in 2000, the report analyses socio-economic developments in the European Union and this year posed the question: ‘what does it take to have an EU working for workers?’

Presenting the report, Maria Jepsen, Director of the ETUI’s Research Department, outlined the economic and political uncertainties facing Europe, including a forecasted slowdown in growth. She emphasised the need to look for the nuances behind the data. Positive headline EU indicators on growth and employment masked significant disparities between north-west, eastern and southern Europe in terms of wage developments and the concentration of job creation in particular sectors. Furthermore, while EU employment levels are up, the statistics show that part-time work accounts for a large part of this rise. Much employment protection legislation, however, is focused on full-timers.

Also masking the true state of working Europe was the problem that the classification of work is becoming more blurred, according to Adi Buxbaum, senior expert in the Social Policy Unit at the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour. Gesturing at two cardboard boxes, one marked ‘Employed’, the other ‘Unemployed’, Buxbaum asked the audience how they would categorise different scenarios. Which box, for example, should someone who worked one hour in a reference week be put in? Officially, they would be classed as ‘employed’ but, as Buxbaum pointed out, “statistics don’t always reflect what is happening in the real world.”

“What is important,” Jepsen declared, “is how prepared we are for the future.” The problem here, according to Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the ETUC, is the “incredible lack of investment” in the EU. In order to have job creation, he argued, at least 2% of European GDP should be going towards public investment. This is also an environmental issue. One particularly striking graph from the report picked out by several speakers showed how the EU’s investment in clean energy has declined since 2016 and is now at the same level as that of the US, with both far below China’s. As Philippe Pochet, ETUI General Director, declared: “It is time to push climate change onto the trade union agenda.”

Visentini identified the second big challenge as wages, which in several countries have not even regained their 2008 levels. Collective bargaining is an essential tool for fighting for better wages and making sure they keep up with economic growth. However, as Sotiria Theodoropoulou, head of the ETUI’s Economic, Employment and Social Policies Unit, pointed out, what we have seen instead is a decoupling of labour productivity and real wages. A central cause of this development, she argued, are the policy choices made over decades that have resulted in the weakened bargaining power of labour. Theodoropoulou also questioned the ‘trade-off’ between productivity and inequality, where economic goals such as low inflation are prioritised over employment. This is an issue that has “been taken out of the political sphere but needs to be brought back into the debate”, she said.

Responding to these concerns, Ruth Paserman, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen (Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility), emphasised the work this Commission has been doing in the social arena, including the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the announcement of the European Labour Authority and the establishment of better rights for precarious workers. “We are moving towards a more flexibilised labour market and we should embrace this,” Paserman stated. “However, it should also be possible in today’s digital era for social security to cover every hour worked.”

Despite Paserman’s insistence on the Commission’s limited authority over some employment issues due to the autonomy of the social partners, Visentini called for an EU-level framework directive that actively promotes collective bargaining, which he said is being dismantled across Europe and in some countries has been completely destroyed. Jepsen, meanwhile, pointed out that worker power is also about achieving more democracy at work, which has been shown to encourage greater engagement in civic democracy. Wolfgang Katzian, President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), thanked the Benchmarking report for providing trade unions with vital information which will help them achieve these common goals. “One thing is crystal clear,” he proclaimed. “We must have a social Europe.”

credit for pictures: Julie de Bellaing

All news

Photos

  • Wolfgang Katzian, President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB)

    Wolfgang Katzian, President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB)

  • Adi Buxbaum, senior expert in the Social Policy Unit at the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour.

    Adi Buxbaum, senior expert in the Social Policy Unit at the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour.

  • Maria Jepsen, Director of the ETUI’s Research Department

    Maria Jepsen, Director of the ETUI’s Research Department

  • Philippe Pochet, ETUI General Director

    Philippe Pochet, ETUI General Director

  • Sotiria Theodoropoulou, head of the ETUI’s Economic, Employment and Social Policies Unit

    Sotiria Theodoropoulou, head of the ETUI’s Economic, Employment and Social Policies Unit

  • Ruth Paserman, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen and Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the ETUC

    Ruth Paserman, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen and Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the ETUC

Related links

Events

Related publications