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Putting the EU on the Road to Recovery after Covid-19

As Europe activates measures to put the region on the road to recovery, the World Employment Confederation-Europe puts forward recommendations for EU policies to support a safe return to work in the new normal and sustain the economic recovery, building on safe workplaces, agile labour markets, social dialogue, skilling agenda, public-private cooperation and new safety nets.

Published on 17th June 2020

Europe has been hardly hit by the Covid-19 crisis. The European Commission’s Spring Economic Forecast of May 2020 projects that the EU economy is forecast to contract by about 7% in 2020 and grow by around 6% in 2021. The unemployment rate is forecast to rise from 6.7% in 2019 to 9% in 2020.

The private employment services sector can play a key role in supporting the EU on the road to recovery. The World Employment Confederation-Europe puts forward recommendations for EU policies to support a safe return to work in the new normal and sustain the economic recovery, building on safe workplaces, agile labour markets, social dialogue, skilling agenda, public-private cooperation and new safety nets.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and labour market implications should be used as a driver to foster and promote diverse forms of work and labour contracts. EU Member States should be encouraged, via the European Semester and the country-specific recommendations, to reform their labour markets to this end.

Diverse forms of work can play a crucial role in meeting changing economic and labour market demand. Agency work has already demonstrated this ability in the early days of the crisis by re-allocating workers from sectors in low demand to sectors with high needs for staff. Many governments across Europe have acknowledged this key role and lifted some restrictions to enable agency work services to fill the gaps in labour markets, help businesses stay afloat and maintain employment.

There is still a need in several European countries (including Italy, France, Germany and Spain) to lift the unjustified restrictions on temporary agency work that are still in place. These cover mostly too strict maximum length of assignments, reasons for use of temporary agency work and conditions and restrictions linked to labour contracts. Regarding labour contracts, it is essential to allow for a diversity of labour contracts also within the agency work industry.

Protecting all workers

Skills and training were already fundamental for the future of work, but they became even more crucial in the context of Covid-19. For its Skills Agenda announced for the second half of 2020, the EU should focus on the recognition of prior learning, the validation of non-formal and informal learning and a renewed focus on apprenticeships and dual learning. It should provide the framework for reforms of national education and training systems, equipping workers with the skills needed in the aftermath of the pandemic. A special focus should also be laid on allowing workers to move from declining to rising sectors through targeted training schemes fostering occupational mobility, as successfully done by bipartite training funds in the agency work sector during the crisis.

Also crucial will be the reform of social protection systems. The inadequateness of existing systems is not new, but the Covid-19 crisis has even further highlighted the need to fix it to better mitigate economic disruption and cushion impact for all workers, irrespective of the way they engage with work. Social innovation such as the new ways of providing complementary social protection and benefits implemented by the agency work sector can inspire the EU and its Member States. The outcome of the joint project by the EU Sectoral Social Partners to be presented in December 2020 should further feed the discussion.

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