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
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
“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.
“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.”