To fight in-work poverty, EU needs long-term investments

A stronger welfare state is the key to fighting precarious employment, says Neoklis Sylikiotis.

Neoklis Sylikiotis | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Neoklis Sylikiotis

29 Nov 2017

The question of how social payments could combat precarious employment is linked to discussions over the destruction of the welfare state and the rise of atypical (partly fraudulent) contract methods. 

Studies by the EU’s EUROFOUND Agency from September and October 2017, and Parliament’s employment committee from December 2016, indicate that the increase in atypical working contracts has led to the rise of in-work poverty and an increase in fraudulent employment. In other words, deregulating the labour market increases precariousness in the EU.

Between 2008 and 2014 the numbers of marginal part-time and permanent part-time contracts in the EU increased by nine and seven per cent respectively.


At the same time, permanent, full time contracts dropped from 62 per cent to 59 per cent of all work contracts in the EU. 

Involuntary part-time contracts reached unprecedented heights in the member states, where unpopular structural reforms were imposed. 

For example, involuntary part-time contracts reached 71 per cent of all part-time contracts in Greece, 64 per cent in Spain, 63 per cent in Italy, 59 per cent in Bulgaria, 56 per cent in Cyprus and 57 per cent in Portugal.

At EU level, seven per cent of all part-time employees work fewer than 20 hours a week. In addition, in-work poverty affects five per cent of employees with full-time contracts, six per cent of those with permanent contracts, 16 per cent of those with temporary contract, 14 per cent of those in part-time contracts, 29 per cent of those in involuntary contracts at 22 per cent of workers with a part-time contract due to illness or disability. It’s clear that combatting precarious work cannot be addressed solely by increasing social security payments.

Although their role is an important one, employment precariousness can only be tackled with holistic political approaches and strategies - by promoting public investment in long-term reindustrialisation and employment policies, for example, or by promoting public investment in upwards social cohesion, which should create decent employment.

In its report on working conditions and precarious employment, Parliament introduced the International Labour Organisation’s definition of decent employment; “Decent work is work that is productive and delivers a fair income, with a safe workplace and social protection, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

Workers’ rights are fundamental human rights, and they should be considered as such. Both the EU and the member states should shift away from the uncontrolled market and austerity policies promoted by the European semester framework under the stability and development pact.

Instead, they should embrace strengthening the welfare state as well as promoting holistic approaches to create decent jobs through public investment and long-term state strategies.
Importantly, the Commission and the member states must, for the first time, promote policies that empower workers through social dialogue and the extension of collective bargaining, ensuring, at the same time, that all workers can exercise their right to assembly and collective bargaining freely and without fear.


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