After a decade of austerity, Europe’s economy has bounced back. Unemployment in the EU is at its lowest rate since records began. However, the last ten years have also been a period of stagnant wage growth and painful labour market adjustment. One of the most striking features of the post-crisis years has been the growth of things like zero-hour contracts, the so-called “gig economy”, and fixed-term employment contracts; for most people, the “job for life” has been replaced by a succession of “jobs for a year or two”.

Meanwhile, freelancing has flourished, with companies arguing their workers are actually self-employed (and therefore much easier to fire, with fewer social security costs for their employer to cover). In France, the New York Times reports that some bicycle couriers are now renting out their accounts to illegal migrants, taking up to a 50% cut of the earnings. As the NY Times puts it: “The fact that there is less money from the platforms has pushed poor people to outsource to people even poorer than them”. Is this really a healthy economy?

What do our readers think? In 2019, the EU reached its lowest unemployment rate in nearly two decades. However, Sophie sent us a comment demanding not just more jobs, but also quality jobs. She says that means “decent salaries, worker rights, protection, etc.” So, is Europe’s economic recovery being built on poor quality jobs?

To get a response, we spoke to Stefan Olsson, the Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission. What would he say to Sophie’s comment?

Initially, the first pick-up after the crisis in 2008 was indeed very much what we call ‘non-standard jobs’. So, the new jobs that were created when we started to come back, so to say, were often fixed-term, temporary agency jobs.

Today, we see that actually the permanent jobs – which I think are what one would qualify as ‘quality jobs’ – are picking up and this trend is being reversed. So, there is a certain truth in that the initial recovery was based on non-standard jobs, which according to Sophie’s definition would be low quality, but now this trend is reversed.

So, in terms of the issue of low quality jobs and whether Europe’s economy is dependent on them, it’s more complex but the reply we would say is: no, our economy is dependent on high quality, high skilled jobs that are adding value. That’s the type of industry and service sectors we have in Europe. So, we don’t see that we are dependent on these jobs, but rather that this was a way to get out of the crisis for many countries.

For another perspective, we also spoke to Arthur Corazza, Head Policy Research Officer for the Working Group on Youth Employment at the European Student Think Tank, and a graduate student at the London School of Economics. What would he say?

I think voices like Sophie’s for quality jobs are really important for adopting new economic thinking in Europe. Instead of focusing on job types alone, we need to pay more attention to direct quality measures, including job security, working time, work-life balance, collective representation, etc.

Now, the OECD and European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) actually show that growth and job quality can be mutually reinforcing with conducive institutions and practices. For example, that’s the case in Denmark and Sweden. However, job quality in Spain and Italy, indeed, remains rather low compared to other countries, but also employment growth is stagnant and what growth there is especially occurs in atypical jobs. So, there is actually a growing job quality divide in the EU.

Now, conceptually, this issue really hits the nail on the head. I think the policy template that has also informed austerity has posited high standards as detrimental to economic prosperity. But the weakening of collective voices has obviously been harmful to the quality of people’s jobs; if we prioritise economic strength at the cost of people’s quality of work life, we actually confuse means and ends. The alternative would be to adopt broader common objectives. Concretely, that means taking job quality seriously, with an explicit target in a post Europe 2020 strategy, and that needs to happen at the EU level.

Next up, we had a comment from Patricia arguing that, in order to guarantee quality jobs, the EU needs to make self-employment and freelance working more acceptable and better supported, especially in terms of access to social protection and worker rights. Is she right?

How would Stefan Olsson from the European Commission respond?

She is right, absolutely. And the main issue here is that in many countries there is no obligatory provisions or schemes for social protection for the self-employed. Because, traditionally, one has seen that the self-employed were strong, like dentists or doctors, who could take care of this themselves.

Now, we see that the weaker self-employed really struggle with this issue of social protection. Therefore, we presented a proposal for a recommendation – because we cannot force the Member States on this, this is really their competence – but we have presented a recommendation that Member States do provide for social protection for the self-employed, and that was adopted by Council, though it’s not a legally-binding act. But she’s completely right, it is one of the big challenges we have.

Is Europe’s economy built on poor quality jobs? Do freelance workers need better access to social protection? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (cc) Flickr – eugenuity; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Olsson (c) European Commission, Corazza (c) European Parliament

18 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    Yes. Lack of social policy drag wages down

  2. avatar

    Europe also shouldn’t let too many things be american or foreign, too much moneys flows away too, not to mention tax evasion scandals of international corporations and holdings
    (mastercard bought european credit card, west stock exhchange purchased by NYSE and etc. instead of apple pay, google pay, there should be an european paying app promoted instead of foreign)

  3. avatar

    The boy are very poor. Anyhaw, I don’t like that’s for any home delivery food.

  4. avatar

    Post question: yes.
    Article question: no.

  5. avatar

    You know what Europe needs, once and for all? socialism. Nothing more, nothing less

    • avatar

      ✊✊✊ yes

    • avatar

      You have it at the hihgest rate in the world except Venezuela and North Coreea. Do you really want more tax and welfare?

    • avatar

      Yes please.

    • avatar

      many thanks.

  6. avatar

    Although I think the expansion of the job market through increased used of low-quality and/or not-permanent jobs (i.e. gigs) is growing, there is no way that Europe’s economy is built on poor quality jobs. Just to name a few things, Europe has several significant financial centres with global reach, has high quality universities and research institutions, has a well developed and advanced military industry, has several and significant art and cultural industries and institutions.

    And speaking as a Canadian who visits often and has family in Europe, Europe does not look like it’s in a race to the bottom trying to limit wage growth or replace high value employees with low skilled temporary workers (like some segments of the Canadian and US economy have seen).

  7. avatar

    when you go ,for exemple to Prague, there are very much peapole sleeping on the road without money and that is a problem.

  8. avatar

    Europe becomes a s*** hole. Seriously, wages are so low, taxes are so high that many highly qualified people start to wonder why on earth they do work in here. Just take a look how many companies were involved in Panama Papers. How many corporations don’t actually pay taxes (or do pay bare minimum). Meanwhile small companies and self-employed individuals have to pay a lot almost anywhere in Europe.

Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies on your device as described in our Privacy Policy unless you have disabled them. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.