European Union ministers focus on job quality standards for EU

European Union employment and social affairs ministers met for a three-day informal summit in Berlin to discuss the future of social models in Europe and the reforms necessary to reconcile needs for flexibility and social security.

The fourth European working conditions survey highlighted the importance of decent quality jobs and a good work-life balance for boosting workers' motivation, the creation of new jobs and increased productivity. However, the report also found that these conditions are not yet sufficiently met in many regions and sectors of the EU economy.

Germany, which holds the EU Presidency during the first half of 2007 has, in spite of some signs of improvement on its labor market, a persistent unemployment problem.

The German grand coalition government therefore decided to put "Good jobs" at the top of the agenda for the 18-21 January informal meeting of employment and social affairs ministers.


Issues:

The ministers discussed "Good jobs," defined along the following lines:
• fair wages for work performed
• protection against health risks at work
• workers' rights to assert their interests and to participate
• family-friendly working arrangements, and
• enough jobs for all who need them


The German government pointed out that "good jobs" correspond to the concept of "flexicurity" (a portmanteau of flexibility and security), and that the major elements for good jobs are:

Working conditions promoting lifelong learning and possibilities of vocational further training, including:

• adequate income
• social dialogue, dependent on national traditions
• participation and co-determination in companies
• safety, health protection and prevention measures at the workplace
• balance between flexibility and security
• compatibility of work and private life, and
• in-company integration management for the disabled


The Commission added that the concept of quality work should also cover "how best to regulate new and atypical forms of employment so as to avoid labor market segmentation."


Positions:

Addressing the European Parliament on 17 January 2006, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "To secure wealth, growth, employment and social security - briefly: to safeguard and develop Europe's social model within a framework of globalization - is what citizens expect from European governments. This is therefore the second main focus of our work during our Council Presidency. The foundation of the Lisbon strategy is the vision of a Europe of strong growth and social security, which also respects its environment. The economy has started to grow, at an accelerating pace. But growth must not be an end to itself. When I hear 'growth', I think 'jobs'. My conviction is that employment must be chief. That is Social Europe."


Latest and next steps:

• On 23 January, the European Year of Equal Opportunities 2007 will be officially launched.

• On 22 February, ministers will meet for a formal Employment, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Affairs Council.

• A consultation on the Commission's Green Paper on Labor Law will be closed on 31 March.

• A Commission communication on flexicurity is planned for June.


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