We are living in the fourth big revolution - the digital revolution. It is changing our society and work environments at breath-taking speed. Many tasks have already been fully automated, with more to follow in the future. Permanent employment in the classic sense is still the norm, but non-typical forms of employment are increasing. (Pseudo) self-employment, platform work, limited contracts - the list is long. Quite often, these forms of employment lead to exploitation and precarious working conditions for workers. We want to show how technical progress and good work can go hand in hand, and why people must always take centre stage.
Social security makes Europe unique. In no other region of the globe do people benefit so much from social security systems. But these systems must also be adjusted from time to time, to keep up with the changes that are happening. At EZA, we try to identify ways of doing just that. Because social security is primarily an opportunity for economic growth and peaceful coexistence. The European Pillar of Social Rights - as proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Göteborg Social Summit 2017 - is a milestone of European social policy. It places the focus of European policy firmly on the social dimension of the EU. Its objectives include equal opportunity, better access to labour markets, fair working conditions, fair wages and therefore fair pensions, and better social protection. At EZA, we explain the principle of the Pillar and identify opportunities for designing social policies on this basis.
A secure workplace that guarantees good wages and social security for workers and their families, as well as opportunities for advancement and fulfilling work with good working conditions. That should be possible for all workers in Europe. But the reality often looks different. We organise the exchange and knowledge transfer between workers’ organizations with regard to these issues, so that humane work in Europe can become a reality.
It is one of the biggest problems in the European Union: youth unemployment. It is the cause of social tensions and hopelessness, particularly in the countries of southern and south-eastern Europe. And in many European countries, young workers suffer from low wages and precarious working conditions. Often, they are not able to access labour markets, so many young people emigrate to try their luck abroad. At the same time, young people are the future of Europe and the European Union. At EZA, we use our networks to identify solutions and promote new approaches for youth employment.
Albania, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia - these countries in the Western Balkan want to become members of the European Union. But the way there is difficult and long. The social dialogue in these countries is weak, corruption is pervasive, and social security is very limited. With our special project Western Balkan, we want to assist the workers’ organizations in these countries to effectively represent worker interests and to participate in shaping the EU integration process of their countries in their role as social partners.
Europe became a destination for millions of mainly African and Asian refugees long before 2015. These refugee movements have become a major challenge for European policy-makers and create different demands on European countries. A central aspect of integration can be solved if these individuals are able to obtain dignified work. In that case, migration becomes an opportunity for Europe. But work mobility within the EU must also be fair. After all, 17 million EU citizens work in an EU state outside of their home country. This has serious consequences not just for the families they leave behind but also for the countries that experience a loss of workers (key word: “Brain Drain”). At EZA, we use our education work to develop ideas how work mobility and migration can be designed to benefit all workers.
Strong workers’ organizations are needed to create a social Europe. In our complex work society, they represent interests and are actively involved in companies and in society, and therefore ensure a balance and social stability. To this end, they need skills, resources, advice and education. With our programme, we ensure that workers’ organizations can remain active for the benefit of a social Europe, and that they are able to expand the range of their activities.
Preventing work accidents and mental-social stress at work. Ensure health protection in the workplace. These aspects are top priorities for the social partners across the entire EU. We believe that workers have a right to health protection. This corresponds to our idea of humane work. At the same time, healthy workers are also better able to contribute to ensuring our economic wealth. The challenges have changed over time. Today, it is less about accident prevention and more about stress management and preventing mental illnesses. We keep an eye on the new challenges and are proud to be an official campaign partner of the European Agency for Safety & Health at Work.
Career opportunities and wages are key areas where women still face disadvantages compared to men. We are still a long way from true gender equality in the workplace. But maintaining a work-life balance is difficult for mothers and fathers alike. And then there are those who face disadvantages on account of their ethnic background, religion, disability or age, who must also be integrated into the labour market with equal rights. At EZA, we use our education work to identify ways in which this can be done in a responsible manner, and how equal opportunity in the labour market can be improved.
These three aspects have become inexorably linked especially in the time of “Fridays for Future”. This also includes the structural transformation in Europe - away from coal towards renewable energies, with the resulting impact on the labour market. But also the creation of “green jobs”. The European Commission views green jobs as those jobs that support ecosystems, save energy and raw materials and use renewable energy. But it is also about making workplaces more humane. EZA uses its education work to discuss how this can be done.
Hence the ability to learn throughout one’s life in order to adjust and enhance knowledge, qualifications and skills. It includes continuing education for those who already have a job, and retraining for those wishing to qualify for a new job, as well as apprenticeships or internships to obtain initial experience in the labour market. Our education work focuses on the possibilities that exist in the EU, the differences in the various EU countries, what works well (and not so well), and how the interests of workers can also be protected as part of the education programme.
We are living longer, and we have to be prepared to work longer, because as life expectancy rises, so does the pressure on pension systems. Managing this transformation can be successful if workplaces are designed in an age-appropriate manner and if the transition to retirement is adapted to the needs of older workers. We want to use the European exchange to discuss examples of how this could work, and how our social security system can ensure that we are able to live out our retirement in dignity in the future.
What exactly is a modern employment relationship? The advance of digitisation also expands the bandwidth of employment relationships, even within companies. Permanent full-time employees work alongside temporary workers, contract workers, freelancers - all of whom experience different working conditions, rights and wages. Shaping this diversity and securing the appropriate co-determination presents an enormous challenge for workers’ organizations. Using our education and networks, we want to do our part to enable workers’ organizations to find positive solutions for these urgent questions.