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All change for Europe's workforce?

Mobility of the workforce is strongly encouraged within the EU, yet various obstacles still stand in the way. Cultural, linguistic and social changes are needed for real mobility says Maria Helena André, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Maria Helena Andre
Maria Helena Andre

The barriers to mobility for EU employees must be removed, but this is proving to be a slow process – figures show that in 2000, only 16.4% of them had changed employer within the last year, compared to 30% in the USA.

“The main problem concerning mobility is recognition of qualifications, followed by social protection and fiscal issues,” says Maria Helena André. So better co-operation is needed at EU level to make qualifications more transparent and transferable, and to recognise the increasingly important skills acquired outside formal learning.

“At European level we are finally launching a new phase of work in this area,” says André, referring to a Danish EU Presidency initiative in consultation with the ‘social partners’: unions and employers.

Greater visibility and information on job opportunities are also crucial, she argues. The trade unions are active partners in the Eures network, designed to match the workforce in sectors ranging from IT to catering, with vacancies across the European Economic Area. The ETUC also backs the Commission’s proposal for a one-stop shop for mobility information.

Towards enlargement

“Enlargement will bring benefits for everybody,” insists André. The ETUC has already started its own enlargement process, opening its doors to affiliates in 34 European countries. However, there are concerns that during transitional periods skilled workers could be ‘drained’ from Eastern and Central European countries. “The future Member States will need a big investment in research and development to retain their highly qualified workers, but there is enormous potential for innovation.”

Training the workforce is a priority. In March, the European social partners reached a significant agreement on vocational training and lifelong learning. Innovative approaches might cover training leave or flexible working time, leading eventually to every employee following an individual career development plan.

Keeping top researchers in Europe means creating the right environment for them, and this includes funding, living conditions, and networking opportunities. “In the EU we are lagging behind, not because we are less innovative, but because we take longer to recognise innovation and then transfer it to the workplace,” explains André.

“Our European model is one of high skills, high wages and high social protection, based on full employment in a competitive and fair economy. That’s the Lisbon agenda which the trade unions share. We agree on the objectives and are currently negotiating agreements on the instruments and the policies.”



last update: 23-01-2003