Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The force of labour or the labour force

Adelina Marini, September 2, 2010

"The unemployment data of the second quarter of 2010 show that ...", "Workers from the X factory have not received their salaries for six months now ...", "The government's forecast about the economic growth next year ...", "The recession in the property market and construction left hundreds of construction workers in the street ...". This is how a large part of the news, which we watch each evening, start. Sometimes behind these news there is a personal story and sometimes just dry data about the economic situation, labour market, the government's measures.

Is anything missing?

I miss the solution of these problems. Often, however, when you have to make a reasonable decision, you have to base it on a good analysis because, ultimately, the core problem is in the economy. And it is not only that the economy is in a recession, meaning that it is not growing in such a way that it could create new jobs, lead to an increase of salaries, the creation of new products which we would want to buy, to the payment of more taxes and social contributions, which would guarantee better education, healthcare, and also more policing on the streets and more security for us and our property. The problem is also in the lack of clarity about the future. And here comes the difficult part.

On the one side are the workers who were either sacked or their working hours were reduced, or their salaries, or some are let on a non-paid leave, or just without change (which can also be a problem). Often in the group of the workers there is another problem - the lack of satisfaction from work (be it the salary, or because it does not suit qualification, bad working conditions or else).

On the other side are the employers who have to combine several very hard, especially in a crisis, problems: to keep their workers, to be able to pay their salaries and social security contributions, to invest in the development of their business, to search for new markets/clients. They also have a problem with dissatisfaction - when you've hired the type of workers the market is offering and not the type you need, there is no way that you could be happy with their work. A dissatisfied worker creates unsatisfactory labour from where on things deteriorate further till the end of the chain.

The third side is the state - it is who has to take care of workers' security, the conditions for development of businesses, education, finding jobs for the unemployed, payment of aid for them, finding as concrete as possible information about where the problems are, imbalances and if there is anything the state could do, to do it.

There is a fourth side and it is the EU. We include it in the equation not only to make it more interesting but because the EU is still in a process of building its single market and also has difficulty with creating a common labour market. But in the end of the day what's missing is a full and general picture of the situation with the common European labour market.

How to solve the equation?

Usually an equation is being solved when we first put in order what we already have as known. We have national employment policies, we have social partners, statistical data. Now we have to link these in a way that we could receive a full picture of the situation but with one condition - such a picture will be more reliable and full if it is European. Otherwise we will sooner or later get back to the current situation in which we have well developed economies (like the German), very competitive, and others, which are not competitive, indebted, with unreformed labour market, education and health care (such as the larger part of the Southern economies).

In other words we need an analysis. Such type of analyses is being provided by the European Centre for Development of Vocational Training. It is based in Thessaloniki, Greece. The first thought usually is - ah, another body that spends European money on nothing. It is a fact that Cedefop cannot be the full solution of our equation precisely because the employment policies are entirely a national prerogative of Member States. But nevertheless, the centre does exactly what we need in order to solve the equation - it analyses and makes forecasts. And not just analyses the situation of the common european market but is also trying to present in a better way what kind of skills are needed.

The centre has an enviable data base about Member States, which could help us see how a country is tackling unemployment, especially in the area of needed skills. According to this year's report of the centre, the problem now is not a worker to have a diploma in order to get a job, but to have qualification. The dynamics of nowadays, globalisation, new technologies can no longer wait for a person to graduate a university, get a digree, etc. and the experts in the centre have come to realise - we can't all be academics (or don't want to). This is why Member States should focus more on vocational training and qualification.

Cedefop's analysis also shows that in the mid-term (by 2020) the need of low-qualified workers will drop significantly while, although with slow motion, the need of middle and highly qualified workers will grow. The problem however is in knowing precisely what types of qualifications are needed at a certain period of time. And also - the benefits of vocational training are still a challenge for most EU member countries, the experts of the centre say. This is why the main task of Cedefop is to prove that it is useful to invest in training. But in general, investments in qualifications in the entire EU are low.

How information is being gathered?

The experts in the Centre for Development of Vocational Training send questionnaires to Member States and on their basis prepare reports. Since recently for the first time social partners were also included. The Bulgarian Mariya Todorova, which is one of the experts working with the centre with representatives from 23 Member States, hailed in principle the work with Bulgarian authorities, but pointed out that Bulgaria has no special analysis department. This can clearly be seen in Cedefop's library where in the "Bulgaria" sector there are no more than 3-4 books, mainly by foreign experts.

The lack of a serious analysis can also be seen on Ministry of Labour and Social Policy's website, the Employment Agency's website too and also on the website of the special National Agency for Vocational Training. One can only see priorities and lists of professions for which vocational training is provided but no analysis on what skills are being needed, are they available, which are the most suitable age groups and other important issues.

The provision of good vocational training, however, requires availability of good teachers. This is exactly how Ms Todorova started her presentation for a group of Bulgarian journalists that visited the centre in Thessaloniki, with a quote by the Minister of Education of Sweden: "The quality of school can never exceed the quality of the teaching staff".

The problem, especially for Bulgaria, gets additionally complicated by the fact that attempts for more opportunities for vocational training are reported but these attempts are very centralised. Cedefop says that such a policy would be much more successful at a regional level because thus more attention could be paid on vocational training of teachers.

The good news

Currently all 31 countries Cedefop analyses (this is EU27 + the countries from the common european economic area like Iceland, Norway, Switzerland) are in a process of development of national qualifications frameworks. So far with well developed frameworks are the English-speaking countries. In Bulgaria development has started in 2008. With already completed frameworks are Belgium, Estonia, Malta, Portugal, Lithuania. Germany is currently testing its national qualifications framework in four sectors like ICT and health care.

Another good news is that such a framework is being developed on a European level with which the national ones must be linked. In the meantime a common standard of CV has been approved which facilitates the search of a job on the common market. Not only this but this common standard can serve as a mirror to see what is being offered and in what form.

The force of labour

Of course, the attitudes towards labour in the various cultural, religious and political areas in Europe varies. The big crisis of 2008, the consequences of which we will feel for a long time onward, proved that the power is in labour - that labour able to high productivity and not being afraid of changing qualifications. Because, after all, what is the point of sitting and wailing that you are not being paid for 6 months in a factory, since you can fully benefit from the vocational training programmes and offer your labour elsewhere.

The time when we could dream after school or university to find a job where we could retire is long gone. Now is the time of a more exigent search of the right person for the right job. The time of those who would not say "I will not work for 300 euro", but of those who are inclined to study an additional foreign language, who are inclined to acquire new skills and thus work for a higher salary.