Speech by Wanja Lundby-Wedin at the WORKS conference
The following text is a draft to speech by Ms Wanja Lundby-Wedin at the WORKS conference. The conference took place in Stockholm, April 29th 2009.
WORKS stands for Work Organisation and Restructuring in the Knowledge Society. The WORKS-project aims to examine the recomposition of global value chains and the simultaneous geographic concentration and decentralisation of business functions and their impacts on work, on workers and the quality of their working lives. WORKS is an Integrated Project with 17 EU and Accession State partners. The project is financed by EU.
Dear speakers, dear participants,
I am very happy to be able to stand here today and speak about such an important issue as restructuring and work life. The current global crisis has a great impact on the labour market and society at large. Nowadays not a day goes by without news of the restructuring process affecting workers in Europe in one way or another.
However, the present restructuring is not only a result of the crisis. It is due to long term changes of the European Labour Market with shifting from manufacturing to service sector, outsourcing within the companies, increased need of education and skills, changed work contracts for workers, and so on.
I have heard the quotation “the only thing that is constant, is change”. This is indeed true for us in the labour market. We, the social partners, are used to deal with change, constantly.
To deal with “change”, we have to know what is happening in reality, at the workplace, in different companies, different sectors and countries. Projects like WORKS (Work organisation and Restructuring in the Knowledge Society) can play an important role in this aspect. The crisis underlines the need of Work Life research. Unfortunately, this is a field where Swedish government in the last years has decreased the ambitions.
I would like to take this opportunity to describe the trade unions principles regarding change and restructuring.
If the European Countries are to respond successfully to the challenges of today affecting society in general and the workplace in particular, we need to develop a strategic and pro-active approach with regard to restructuring. Here the social partners play a crucial role.
The word “restructuring” is often associated with something negative. Workers in every country share a sense of insecurity prompted by fear that their jobs will disappear or move abroad. This fear is sometime understood as not being in favour of change.
But trade unions do not resist change, as long as it is justified, negotiated and well managed in a socially responsible way. But what we will always resist is a scenario in which the negative consequences are borne exclusively by workers. The burden of restructuring should be shared between business and the whole society together!
And indeed this has been the case in Sweden, even though this is now challenged by the present conservative government. The Swedish (or Scandinavian) model of labour market transition is related to the fact that we have a general social welfare system and labour market policies that takes care of the individuals affected by restructuring in the economy.
Sweden ranks among the highest when the World Economic Forum measure competitiveness of countries. Sweden also ranks highest among countries when the ILO in a study (“Economic security for a better world”) some years ago measured the world of work. This shows that there is no contradiction between security and competitiveness.
I will now outline the policy challenges faced today in the European Labour Market.
A crucial starting point is to thinking flexibility and security together: A secure workforce is good for productivity and competitiveness!
The idea that Social Europe and competitiveness for business are excluding each other, that flexibility for business and security of the workforce contradict each other, is a non-starter. The right starting point is instead to recognize that both business and workers need flexibility as well as security.
Workers need flexibility and autonomy in working time to get the right balance between work and private life. They need protected mobility to move into better jobs and to back up their negotiating position, as they are the weaker part.
They also need a flexible work organisation with rotating jobs, multi-skilling and continuous training, to enable them to safeguard jobs by improving innovation and productivity.
Business, at the same time, has a major interest in a secure workforce: Firms need a secure workforce to respond to competitive challenges. In order to compete on the global market, business needs committed, motivated and skilled workers that are open to innovation and more productive techniques.
An insecure and deskilled work force will not contribute to better productivity and quality objectives.
Firms, at the same time, also need workers to be mobile so that workers can better match their skills and competences with new job openings.
Workers however will be much more willing to change jobs if they can be sure that the new jobs they are moving into have good working conditions, career prospects and are offering stable contracts.
Within the companies the great challenges are a better functioning information and consultation procedures. Trade unions do not merely wish to play a role in managing the social consequences of restructuring. We also want to play an active and pro-active role in anticipating restructuring. For this to be the case, workers and their representatives must be actively involved in the daily life of their companies so that they can influence any decisions taken and make sure that information and consultation procedures cover all areas of the company’s activities.
Promote lifelong learning. An educated work force with updated skills is a flexible one, both in terms of internal as well as external flexibility. However, statistics show that business invests less and less in the training of its workforce, and this despite of increasing demand for better qualifications. To remedy this, every worker should have an annual competencies and qualifications development plan besides the necessary training to ensure that the worker’s competencies and skills are adapted to the changes introduced at workplace level.
The European labour market needs a good and robust system of job protection. Job protection is not the same as lifetime employment but protects workers from unfair and arbitrary dismissal.
In times of restructuring and transition, the design of job security systems is more important than ever. A system that contributes to deliver secured transitions and protected mobility. Here, the importance of advance notification in particular needs to be underlined. Advance notification not only provides dismissed workers with an early warning signal. It also makes it possible for social partners’ funds and public employment services to start immediately with preparing these workers for the search of a new but rewarding job, even when they are still working with the old employer.
Good unemployment benefit systems make change acceptable to workers by providing an alternative source of income when workers lose their jobs. They promote mobility by delivering the unemployed with the financial means to look for a new job.
They function as a ‘job insurance’ mechanism, compensating workers for investment they made in moving to a new job. They improve job matching and the overall efficiency of the economy by ensuring that workers do not have to accept a job below their skills level.
Together with educational and re-training policies, they allow workers to redirect their skills so that they are back in line with the needs of a modern economy.
I also want to add the importance of a job friendly macro economic policy. A flexible labour market, even when it is a secure one, does not create more jobs. Jobs are created because business face demand for their products and services. To kick start the process of job-creation, macro-economic policy needs to inject aggregate demand into the economy, so that more jobs become available for a more mobile and/or a more productive workforce.
Last, but not least, I want to remind of putting better gender equality into practice. Compared to men, women often find themselves working in more precarious and insecure jobs. Legislation, collective agreements, welfare systems and public services all need to be strengthened to fight gender imbalances and discrimination and improve the situation of women in the labour market.
I have now tried to underline some major challenges for the European labour market. But we recall that there is no single solution of restructuring and dealing with flexibility and security. Therefore the social partners on different levels and in the different sectors can play a significant role together to promote a positive outcome for both business and workers. Strong and representative social partners can be active partners verses National Governments and European Institutions.
However, in order to create a common basis for action we have to know what is happening in the labour market on sectorial, national and European level.
The aim of the WORKS project is to describe how restructuring has taken place in different sectors and countries. Describing and understanding the changing labour market is crucial to be able to deal with restructuring in the economy. The project can contribute to the development of a picture that could be useful in shaping future policies for the social partners.
The conference can play a important role in spreading knowledge and
I appreciate the research done in the WORKS project and look forward to learn more about the major findings during this conference.
Finally, I would like to add a few words about one of the organisers of this conference. That is Runö.
LO and the affiliated unions have seen a need for a trade union center for training and development, and has decided that Runo should be this center. That assignment includes developing contacts and cooperation with interesting and interested universities and colleges and to have a coordinating role vis-à-vis unions and LO. This also includes to monitor Swedish and international research and development and provide a meeting place between different kinds of knowledge and experience.
I am especially happy that Runo can contribute to create the basis for dialogue and mutual learning now and in the future.