To describe oneself as a staunch European citizen, which is what I am, takes a great deal of courage nowadays. Job insecurity seems to have become a sad and permanent feature of the lives of millions of Europeans, rather like a crisis which takes over our past, present and future.
As our stomachs have gradually become accustomed to the scarcity of food, we have inevitably had to downscale our expectations regarding the share of life’s cake we want to carve out for ourselves. Some commentators are even starting to tell us we need to learn to live with less. Others, that job insecurity is simply unemployment and that any kind of a job is always better than no job at all.
Does this mean that we should therefore accept that the concepts of “full employment” and “high-quality jobs” are no more than naive ideals? Is the new development model we must prepare ourselves for primarily one of greater unemployment, job insecurity and poverty? Is the battle for our future already lost?
The generation of young trade unionists to which I belong refuses to accept that the only future it can look forward to is one of such inescapably grim reality. Our ideals are not dreams, but prospects which will determine the direction of our union’s actions. Solutions exist and an ounce of optimism leavened by political will could well help change the hand we have been dealt, even if only incrementally.
Let’s take the example of the fight against job insecurity. Let’s look here at the so-called “job security” agreement signed in France on 11 January 2013 by employers and unions (including my own union, the CFDT). This agreement, which has been enacted into law, places a number of curbs on the use of short-term employment contracts. By as early as 2014, a minimum threshold of 24 hours will become the rule for part-time employment. This is designed to limit the Jobs impact of “job insecurity traps” into which women and young people often fall. Another measure which was successfully negotiated is that short-term contracts are now taxed according to their duration. The shorter the contract, the greater the cost to the employer. The idea here is not only to penalise the use of short-term employment contracts, but also to encourage employers to think about organising labour differently and to put an end to the often far too easy use of short-term contracts.
However, regulations alone will not be enough to end the vicious circle of job insecurity. Beyond these admittedly necessary measures targeting a given type of contract or category of the population, in actual fact it is the entire European economic machine we need to restart. But with what? Investment, more investment and then even more investment!
The European Trade Union Confederation, our trade union at European level, is arguing for the rapid roll-out of a massive investment plan to set Europe back on the road to growth and sustainable high-quality jobs. Raising the equivalent of 2% of European GDP over 10 years could generate €250 billion of investment and create some 11 million new jobs. By way of comparison, this sum would amount to no more than a quarter of the sum spent on saving the banking system and a quarter of that lost every year to tax evasion and fraud. Far from adding further to public deficits, this plan would be financed by dedicated resources such as the tax on financial transactions or by European borrowing (projects bonds, etc.).
Far from being yet another “euro in the jukebox”, this plan would provide the essential leverage for the ecological transition towards a new development model, by prioritising innovation and creation in sectors such as industry, infrastructure and transport, digital technology, education, health, and smart housing. Lastly, through the introduction of “social clauses” into fund allocation procedures, in order to guarantee the quality of jobs, such a plan would promote the return to a “powerhouse Europe” from not only an economic but also a social and environmental standpoint.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. All that remains now is to end the insecurity sapping the political resolve of our leaders.
*Confédération Française et Démocratique du Travail: visit www.cfdt.fr. The CFDT is a member of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD: visit www.tuac.org
OECD work on Employment
OECD work on Social and Welfare Issues
OECD Forum 2014 Issues
Thiébaut Weber, Confederal Secretary French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT)
© OECD Yearbook 2014