The labour market and youth as promoters of social cohesion in society

From June 6 to 8 2019 the seminar titled „The labour market and youth as promoters of social cohesion in society“, organized by HKD Napredak (Hrvatsko kulturno društvo Napredak), with the support of EZA and of the European Union, took place in Zagreb, Croatia. The seminar was attended by representatives of workers’ organisations from 16 different countries including the host country. The seminar was part of the EZA project co-ordination about “Youth employment”.

In his introductory presentation at the beginning of the seminar, EZA-President Luc Van den Brande said the labour market is a promoter of social cohesion and that we are living in a transition period and it will lead us to transformation. We need to respond to the challenges of this time and, according to him, this response must to strive to honest work and the “Youth employment” of better working conditions for young people, not least intergenerational solidarity.

The participants emphasized in their presentations that the issues of youth unemployment and the issue of social cohesion among the most important issues and challenges for the future of our society. Some of the conclusions that have arisen during the debate are: The crisis has had a significant impact on youth unemployment; the youth unemployment rate is generally much higher than the median unemployment rate, even in the period of economic growth the risk for youth unemployment is usually higher. The reasons for this are:

• lack of work experience

• relatively short or unfinished education

• greater instability of the contractual relationship

• fewer job search contacts

Despite these facts, it was said, the unemployment rate within the EU countries has fallen in past year and some of the participants confirmed this in their submissions. Likewise, the unemployment rate among young people in EU-28 countries has fallen in the past year but there is a large disparity between individual member states. Thus, in April 2019 the unemployment rate among young people (<25) was the lowest in Germany (5.3%) and in the Netherlands (6.2%), while the highest unemployment rates were in Greece (38.8% - February 2019), Spain (32.7%) and Italy (31.4%). It was stressed that such disparity greatly impedes the achievement of social cohesion among the member states and is one of the major challenges that we must face in the future.

In discussions on how to achieve social cohesion between social partners, it was underlined that trade unions are a “vehicle” of social cohesion because of their strong commitment to human and workers rights, democracy and the rule of law, but it was also noted that the partners have to be more inclusive. Youth representative bodies exist in most unions, but they do not have enough financial and personnel resources to make the voice of young workers heard adequately within the existing structures. Young workers are not always taken seriously and it is harder for them to assert their authority in the union structure due to their lack of experience and the hierarchical views held by older unionists.

One of the topics discussed at the seminar was the employment of young people and migration to the labour market. It was said that the new, generally underdeveloped EU member states, have an additional problem with the large emigration of young people to the larger and more developed member states. The concern that this could lead to even greater social inequalities among member states was expressed and the speakers underlined that this fact does not go favour social cohesion.

Related to the part of the seminar in which education as a precondition for better competitiveness was looked into, some of the issues that have been discussed are: Why do most workers with college degrees earn so much more than those without? How does a nation's education system relate to its economic performance?

In this section, it was also said that both better education and vocational training have a significant role in fostering greater economic growth and social equity. Countries with a greater portion of their population attending and graduating from schools see faster economic growth than countries with less-educated workers. One of the most important conclusions was that economies with a significant supply of skilled labour, brought on through formal education, as well as vocational training, are often able to capitalize on this through the development of more value-added industries, such as high-tech manufacturing. 

In the end, the common opinion of all the participants in the seminar is that social cohesion is one of the biggest challenges of our society and without a better involvement of young people in social processes this challenge will be difficult to overcome.