Churches encourage the European Union to a much broader approach in employment policies
Dialogue Seminar on “Flexicurity from a Values Perspective”with EU Commissioners Ján Figel’ and Vladimír Špidla
On the eve of the meeting of the Council of the European Union on Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, representatives and experts of the Churches in Europe discussed with the European institutions the modernisation of European employment policies, which shall provide a mutually supportive combination of security and flexibility, called “flexicurity”. The Churches stressed the need for a much broader approach in European employment policies.
Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities explained that flexicurity gives opportunity to protect workers on the labour market, to promote equal work opportunities between men and women, strengthening family life and fighting against poverty. . Špidla underlined that the main aim of flexicurity is not merely to protect workers against precarious situations but to protect human dignity. Flexicurity is focused more on society than on the labour market. This concept, as highlighted by Stefan Lunte Assistant Secretary General of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, is rooted in the tradition of the Churches. In the socio-political arena it should be measured by the degree of progress made for the weakest participants in the labour market.
Rüdiger Noll, Director of the Church & Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches explained that the suggested employment policies depend on a very high level of mutual trust, which makes it necessary to involve all groups in society, not only employers and trade unions but also churches and diaconal organisations. He also said that churches are concerned about the increasing segmentation of the labour market, with more and more precarious employment situations and the growing marginalisation of specific groups, such as long term unemployed, less skilled people or people with a migration background.
Commissioner for Education and Culture, Ján Figel, stressed that education can contribute to make the flexicurity initiative successful in all the countries and regions of the EU.
Professor Gerhard Wegner, director of the Social Sciences Institute of the Evangelical Church in Germany, in the Dialogue Seminar explained that the institutions of society (social security offices, job centres, youth departments etc.) must propose stronger empowerment approaches in order to improve opportunities for people to participate in society, particularly in the labour market.
Bishop Ludwig Schwarz SDB of Linz launched an appeal to protect the free Sunday as a cultural heritage of Europe and underlined that the human being is not only created as an individual but also open to community. “Only free time shared with others gives human beings in their relationships to others its full dignity.”
MEP Jacek Protasiewicz expressed the expectations that churches help people find their way in the modernised labour market and to face its changes (the importance of life long learning). He also said that it is important to strengthen the ethical dimension of the relations between employees and employers.
Ms Bozica Matic from the Permanent Representation of the Slovenia to the EU said that it is a time to start to implement flexicurity and to put it into practice together with all stakeholders including churches and religious communities.
The dialogue between Churches and EU Institutions took place in the present of the social partners, represented by Bussineseurope (UNICE) and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) who offered their opinion as to how to implement the concept of flexicurity.
Recognising that globalisation, demographic, technological and labour market developments are challenging Europeans to reflect on more flexible labour market and measures for increased protection of the social rights of employees, the Dialogue Seminar concluded that whilst recognising the achievement of common principles on flexicurity there is a still a long way to go in order to translate commonly shared values into concerted policies. The dignity of the human being and protection of the most vulnerable in the labour market must be the starting point of the implementation measures.