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Flexible and resilient labour market measures help people back to work post-pandemic

ETF online conference, 28 October

Innovative and adaptive Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) have a key role to play in addressing the challenging economic and social conditions following the global Covid crisis, an online conference hosted by the European Training Foundation heard today. 

Countries that fail to address the skills needs exposed by a global shock that could see the loss of 144 million jobs worldwide, and the setting back of gender employment equality targets by decades, will pay a high price, Manuela Prina, Head of the European Training Foundation’s Skills Identification and Development Unit, warned.

Speaking at the opening of the ETF online event “Innovation and Adaptation of Active Labour Market Policies to Changing Economic and Social Conditions”, she said: “In previous crises we have seen that countries that did not tackle the skills dimension had a hard time for much longer; it will be great today to see the skills dimension really emerging as part of the solution.”

Major changes include the emergence of new ways of working; the growing challenge of digital and green transitions; and increasing problems of inclusion and gender equity.

Conference participants, representing 45 different countries, heard about the changes taking place within the world of work and the need for ALMPs to become more flexible in order to cope with fast evolving labour markets, .

An ETF survey on new forms of working in EU partner countries found a big increase over the past two years in freelance and remote working, with most young, well-educated men from national capitals involved in ITC, multi-media, arts and design, and translation and writing services. There was also a growth in lower skilled flexible working patterns, such as on-location ride hailing, and delivery services.

Although such novel employment opportunities offered advantages – relatively high pay for skilled white-collar work, and alternatives to migration, they came with “very little social benefits and limited career development,” the ETF’s Iwona Ganko noted.

Irena Mandl, Head of Unit at the European Labour Authority, said that labour laws across the EU were generally “not fit for purpose” and out of step with what was actually happening today in the labour market.

“The EU generally has good labour regulation but it is just not clear if this covers platform work,” she said. “The typical platform worker is very young and may not have much exposure to labour law or know their rights. We could benefit from awareness raising through social media.”

The important thing was “to incentivise, rather than penalise, platform workers.”

Examples of good practice could be found in Belgium, for example, where tax advantages have been introduced in order to foster greater transparency in the new sector.

With at least 3 million people in the EU engaged in platform work regulating the sector to ensure good working conditions and social protection was a key challenge for policymakers, Dragos Adascalitei, Research Officer at Eurofound, the EU’s agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, said.

“Most platform workers are self-employed, but they perceive themselves as employees of the platforms,” he said. Countries including France and Austria had begun work to create new definitions such as “employee-like status” and “entrepreneurial worker.”

The EU’s VET policy agency, Cedefop is currently setting up an EU-wide system to “scrape online platforms” to build a database on the type of skills and tasks demanded of platform workers, Cedefop’s Konstantinos Pouliakas added.

The impact of the pandemic on gender equality in education and employment had been significant, with as many as 11 million girls dropping out of education worldwide over the past two years, a time when 1.5 billion students were out of school.

It is estimated that the pandemic has set back the estimate of the time it will take the world to reach gender equality in the workplace from 100 years to 137 years.

Ensuring that labour market policies effectively target gender inequality was more important than ever, Christine Hofmann of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said.

Although high income countries were emerging from the pandemic in 2021 in reasonably good economic shape, the situation for middle and low-income nations was poor and young women were bearing the brunt of job losses.

“Women already pre-pandemic had lower levels of social protection access,” Ms Hofmann stressed. “We have also witnessed an increase in violence and harassment against women during the pandemic.”

Gender equality must be integrated into post-pandemic economic recovery policies through “strengthened gender responses in ALMPs”, she said pointing to persistent wage discrimination between men and women across the world, where on average women earn 79% of male earnings in the formal sector and 47% in the informal sector.

Participants in a panel discussion on supporting women in the labour market included examples from Austria, where public employment services have long spent half their budgets on women, and examples from an Armenian grassroots regional project that supports women in finding employment or setting up their own small businesses.

In a final session the importance of being able to capture labour market and skills information in real time was put under the spotlight.

Eno Ngiela, a programme specialist of the Economic Growth and Employment Cluster, UNDP, Albania, described how monitoring information from a host of sources during the pandemic enabled it to assist the country’s finance ministry in drawing up a five-point $2 million labour market intervention plan to support people who lost their jobs during the crisis.

By including two new categories – self-employment and community employment– researchers were able to give accurate snapshots of precise conditions in the country’s labour market, for example showing that young people were hardest hit (because the tourism industry stopped functioning).

Nora Condon a researcher with the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit of Ireland’s Further Education and Training Authority, described how her small team used a range of different databases to keep up to date with exactly how the pandemic was impacting the labour market. Information drawn from sources that included the pandemic support payments paid out to laid off workers and struggling businesses – and from regional education ministry officials who had close contact with companies and any vacancies they had – meant they could rapidly identify areas of demand to help inform policy decisions.

 

Daniela Zampini, Senior Employment Specialist at the ILO Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe, drew attention to the importance of comprehensive and meaningful labour market information systems that require both datasets and inputs of specialists, experts and a wider range of stakeholders able to provide insights on labour market and socio-economic changes. This would enable countries to explore innovative solutions to track labour market and skills trends building on the international experience and resources, including an advanced statistical information systems’ platform that the ILO has made available. Finally, Zampini highlighted how young people are the most exposed group to the Covid-19 induced economic crisis as well digital and green transitions, and so timely and reliable labour market information are crucial to make the best policy choices for promoting youth employability.

 

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