Arbeit EBCA

With a growing tendency for securing their livelihood the majority of European women and Europe depend on gainful employment. Gainful employment however does not only provide the necessary livelihood, but is also decisive for social security, social recognition and integration. Last not least gainful employment is an important factor for social cohesion.

Facts: This state of affairs is reflected in the employment rate. In 2006 the employment rate of the population aged between 15 and 64 years in the EU-27 was 64.4 %. A high employment rate of more 70 % was reached in five member states: Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and United Kingdom. Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia had lower employment rates of less than 60 % in 2006. The employment rate of women in the EU-27 was with 57.2 % lower than that of men with 71.6 %.[1] Since 1997 the employment rate rose by 3,7 % till 2006 (from 60.7 % to 64.4 %).

[1]           Cf. European Commission / Eurostat (Ed.), Europe in Figures. Eurostat Yearbook 2008, Luxembourg 2008, p. 248.

Security at the place of work, just wages, co-determination and freedom of association are important elements of the comprehensive social rights applicable to European citizens. Reality shows however that these rights are often violated. The neoliberal doctrine of flexibilization and deregulation of gainful employment also relies on abolishing social regulations and standards as much as possible. Gainful employment is to be traded like any other good with as few restrictions as possible. Moreover one loses sight of all forms of human work, like work for the family or the community, since they are not paid or cannot be exploited profitably. They are considered as subordinate or unimportant. But these forms of human work are important and indispensible for our society, for education and the community and for the generations living together in society.

Facts: According to the European Social Charter the social rights are to be defined in a wider sense than the direct rights of work. They include amongst others the right of health protection, social security and welfare, of claiming social services, the right of migrants and their families for protection and assistance and the protection of children and young people and the protection of the family. In the additional protocol of 1989 the right of equal opportunities and equal treatment in employment and profession, of information, consultation and involvement of the employees or their representatives and the right of older employees for social protection were incorporated. The social rights were once again stated more precisely and extended through the revised European Social Charter of 1996.  The special importance of, for example, civil work for the community is documented amongst others in the European Value Survey of 2001. 31.6 % of those interviewed stated that they were working on an honorary basis, i.e. without payment, for at least one organization.

Compared to normal occupation, precarious employment is on the advance in Europe and thus puts into question in principle previous legal and social standards of gainful employment. Precarious employment conditions appear in very different forms in the EU-27. What they have in common is that they are not stable, limited in time, poorly paid and therefore do not provide a sufficient livelihood for the employees and their families and do not lead to any or only to a very low social security. In some countries the low wage sector is promoted by the state, in others insufficient labour law provisions lead to an expansion of low wages. But the result is the same: more and more people in Europe are poor in spite of work. It is women in particular who work in the low wage sector. Openings towards higher paid and qualified employment have long stopped to exist. Low wages are also paid to well qualified people.
Facts: In Spain a little more than one third (34.0 %) of the employees had limited work contracts in 2006.This is by far the highest rate in the member states. Of the five big economies of the EU-27 the percentage of employees with fixed-term contracts was only in the United Kingdom (5. 8 %) under 13 %. Part-time employment was also extended - especially for women: it rose from 15,9 % in 1996 to 18.1 % in 2006. Low wages are mainly paid to women. In Germany the low-wage sector is growing disproportionally. During the last decade the percentage rose from 15 % to 22 %. The figures about insecure employment conditions as a whole say it clearly: 14.2 percent of the employees in 2005 were in temporary employment. The rate of those part-timers involuntary part-timers was 20.3 percent. More than 14 million people belong – with a growing trend – to the “working poor“, who are poor in spite of and because of the present profit-oriented organization of gainful employment. Insecure employment increases the risk of poverty.
The way how gainful employment is shaped therefore has a key role for a social and just society. Unemployment is the biggest threat for working people. The unemployment rates in the EU--27 show that the risk of losing one’s job exists in greatly varying degrees. They demonstrate the deep social split of Europe. Unemployment has major effects on the personal life of people and the coherence of society. It means loss of income, security, recognition and integration. In view of the “financial crisis” a considerable increase in unemployment in Europe is being predicted at present. 
Facts: The average unemployment rate in the EU-27 was 8.2 % in 2006 and therefore went down compared to the relative maximum of 9.1 % recorded in the year 2004. But there were still considerable differences between the unemployment rates of the individual member states, with the highest rates recorded in Slovakia (13.4 %) and in Poland (13.8 %) and the lowest rates in Denmark and in the Netherlands with 3,9 %. In the majority of the member states the unemployment rate of women is higher than that of men. Unemployment is a major challenge especially for young persons between 15 and 24 years. In 2006 it was 17.2 % and thus clearly higher than the general average. Poland had the highest rate of 29.8 %.  Here approx. every third young person is looking for gainful employment. Slovakia (10.2 %) and Poland (7.8 %) also had the highest long-term unemployment rates – with the average of EU-27 at 3,7 %.[1]

[1]           Cf. ibid. p.. 259