Kick-off seminar 2018: priorities of the European social dialogue

The situation of young workers in the European labour market – between Millennials and NEETs – was the focal issue of the EZA kick-off seminar, which was held in Bucharest/Romania from 22 to 23 November 2018, organised in conjunction with EUROFEDOP (Europese Federatie van het Overheidspersoneel) and with the financial support of the European Union. Some 100 representatives of workers’ organisations from 26 European countries gathered to exchange ideas on this and on the core issues of the EZA 2019 education programme.

Social dialogue in Europe

Jörg Tagger, Head of the “Social Dialogue” unit of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, delivered the European Commission’s appreciation of the work of EZA as partner of the Commission. He said the exchange of ideas between workers’ organisations and EU institutions was very important, as it led to greater political acceptance. Tagger gave a synopsis of the European Commission’s current social dialogue projects, such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, for better balance of family and job, or the social minimum protection of workers. A European Labour Authority to be created would pool information in future, he said.

Young workers in the European labour market

Adriana Ciacâru from the Youth Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation described the ETUC’s initiatives on the situation of young people in the labour market and the huge problems young people still had to enter the labour market. Dr. Andreea Mitan, lecturer at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, gave an overview of studies on the Millennials and also identified special qualities – such as creativity, flexibility, quick thinking – as well as less positive characteristics – for instance, being rather impatient, unstructured and overestimating oneself –, that could result in conflicts at work.

The discussions focused primarily on the importance of vocational training. Workers’ representatives from various European countries emphatically described the problem, for instance, that the crafts were racked with worries about recruiting young workers and that in several professions it had become hard to find skilled workers. The reasons for this included the gulf between the labour market requirements and the wishes of young people on the one hand, and their acquired skills on the other hand. A long-term strategy of governments and workers’ organisations could remedy this. Another criticism in this connection was that European initiatives in particular were often not set up for long enough. It was urgent to counter the cliché that the dual vocational training system was only something for school failures. The entry into professional life also had to be made easier for young people.

Marie Hermans, Director of the new EZA member Centre Européen du Travail (CET), described the phenomenon of NEETs from her personal professional experience and presented several CET initiatives. She said that the question of employment and purchasing power associated with it put young people in insecurity and frustration, because they could not accomplish their dreams that seemed achievable in the near future. They also had the feeling of living in a world that did not care for them but left them to fend for themselves.

One focus of the discussion was the Youth Guarantee, which was primarily intended for less skilled young people. Pro bono training mentors were also discussed as a further practical example. It became clear from this experience that young people often lacked self-confidence. What is more, it was not just about the training place but also about fair pay. Pay had to be a living wage. The point was also made that the situation in the different countries of the EU was not always comparable one-to-one. Another important point referred to was the issue of the “brain drain” affecting mainly the countries of Eastern Europe.

A panel discussion also underlined that it was crucial young people be given the feeling that they were heard, respected and guided, but not patronised.

The current nationalistic ambitions in Europe were deemed a great threat. The fear was expressed that European cohesion could be lost. The lack of solidarity between those with work and those without it was also denounced.

EZA 2019 education programme

The EZA 2019 education programme will comprise 70 seminars. A key feature will be the series of seminars on the strategies of European institutions, as part of which the projects on the focal issue “The future of a social Europe – methods and perspectives of the European Pillar of Social Rights and other social policies” will be given academic assistance. In 2019, there will also be co-ordinated projects on the topics of “Youth employment”, “Future of work – changing labour relations” and “Safety and health at work”. Further topics will be “Capacity building”, “Inclusive labour markets”, “Integration of migrants and refugees in the labour market”, “Working and living in a digitised world” and the “Contribution of workers’ organisations to social justice in Europe”. EZA is also campaign partner of the “Healthy Workplaces – Manage Dangerous Substances” 2018-2019 campaign by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in Bilbao.

In his closing remarks, EZA President Bartho Pronk wished wisdom, intelligence and understanding for the world. EZA, he said, could play an important part in this with its education work. He regretted that politicians sometimes seemed to forget workers’ rights, and wished workers’ organisations in Europe a better resonance on national and European level.