Protecting the vulnerable in the job market

In the midst of the current crisis, much remains to be done to prevent unemployment from soaring and inequalities from widening further, writes Lucia Duriš Nicholsonová.
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The EU has taken a broad range of measures to help Member States cope with this unprecedented situation. However, the core competencies to fight the pandemic and its consequences lie with Member States, which is why we have seen so many different approaches across the EU. I am convinced that in this situation, coordination is key and we have to build on sharing and implementing best practices across the Union.

There is no one-size-fits-all response, as not all Member States have been affected to the same extent, while forcing harmonisation at all cost might do more harm than good. At the same time, the EU’s response in the form of financial and expert assistance to Member States has to be immense. The consequences may result in even more inequalities and those workers affected need immediate assistance.


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In this regard, I appreciate the European Commission’s proposal of SURE as a temporary instrument to help Member States finance national short-time work schemes. Although the unemployment reinsurance scheme had been on the table long before the pandemic, it was never adopted, due to the level of harmonisation it envisaged. However, the current SURE instrument is different, temporary, and more flexible, allowing Member States to adapt their short-time work schemes as necessary.

Observing the recovery debate, I noticed that the fact that economic growth and employment is a favourable business environment has often been overlooked. The EU should always bear this in mind when preparing a recovery strategy. Moreover, we should all remember this every time we discuss new proposals in the European Parliament. Member States and the EU should do all in their power to not only restore the Single Market but to remove all remaining barriers for workers’ mobility, as well as services provision.

The pandemic is a temporary crisis, but the structural problems remain, for example with youth or long-term unemployment. The proposal for the revised Youth Guarantee should be published soon, and we have to use our resources to fight youth unemployment more effectively, targeting the structural causes behind it, not just tackling the “numbers.”

"The fact that economic growth and employment is a favourable business environment has often been overlooked"

It is one of the reasons we are calling for the social and economic indicators of the European Semester to be interconnected more closely. Innovations, productivity growth and social rights are closely interrelated, as they will flourish only if our economic policies create the perfect environment for it. Even before the crisis, we were not ready for the challenges of tomorrow; the pandemic has only aggravated this situation.

The digital skills gap in Europe is now more visible than ever, we are facing a faster pace of digitalisation and we have seen the emergence of new flexible work arrangements. At the moment, thousands of companies are working in different ways and we have to improve our EU strategies - skills development will be crucial in such people to adapt. The EU has to look at the efficiency of its programmes and policies and now, more than ever, embrace data-based policymaking.

The European Labour Authority (ELA) has been assigned a very important role - ensuring that EU legislation regarding many aspects of labour mobility and social security coordination is respected in every Member State. Disturbing reports have been brought to my attention that potentially hundreds of thousands of cross-border/seasonal workers in the EU are currently in vulnerable situations as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Therefore, as Chair of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, I have invited the ELA to present its findings and explain how it intends to step up efforts to address this. Before assigning further tasks to the ELA, I think we should make sure it fulfils its current duties first. In the context of the current crisis, there is much to be done to prevent unemployment from soaring and inequalities from widening further.

"Even before the crisis, we were not ready for the challenges of tomorrow; the pandemic has only aggravated this situation. The digital skills gap in Europe is now more visible than ever"

Learning from previous crises, it is of the utmost importance to protect the most vulnerable groups in the labour market. Cross-border workers are one of them. During the pandemic, many have been unable to reach their workplaces and lack social protection. Additionally, with digitalisation and pandemics as drivers, we will see a surge of gig economy and an increase of the numbers of platform workers.

The challenge for the near future is to find out how to react to such changes, protect these atypical workers and at the same time not destroy the main benefit it brings to our labour market - flexibility. As far as the introduction of fair minimum wages is concerned, this is a competence of Member States and most of them have already implemented it.

To be honest, creating such a policy on the EU level has no added value, but could divide the Member States, as the Posting of Workers Directive did in the last parliamentary term.

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