Working life flexicurity, equality and working capacity discussed at EU ministerial meeting
European Union employment, social affairs and health ministers gathered at Finlandia hall in Helsinki 7 July for an informal meeting. The Presidency was represented at the meeting by the Minister of labour Tarja Filatov, the Minister of Social Affairs and Health Tuula Haatainen and the Minister of Health and Social Services Liisa Hyssälä. 41 ministers of employment, social affairs and health from EU countries, the EFTA chairing country Norway and EU applicant countries took part in the meeting. The Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal opportunities Vladimir Spidla and the Commissioner for Health and Social Protection Markos Kyprianou also took part in the meeting.
The meeting concentrated on the challenges arising from globalisation and changes to the population’s age structure. Each of the Finnish ministers chaired a working group. The sub-themes of these working groups were the productivity and quality of work, workplace health promotion and the prolonging of the careers of men and women using social policy.
Flexicurity for balanced working life
The theme of the working group led by the Minister of Labour Tarja Filatov was the increasing of work productivity through developing the quality of working life. Commissioner Vladimir Spidla and 21 ministers or heads of delegation took part in the working group.
The working group found that there is a greater turnover of workplaces in Europe than ever before. Structural change is necessary, so that businesses adapt to market changes. Increasing productivity is not just an internal matter for businesses. The state and labour market organisations will also have an important role to play. Productivity needs to be raised in a way that is socially sustainable and supportive of European welfare. This will succeed best by innovatively developing the quality of work.
Increasing productivity by developing the quality of working life demands a successful employment policy as well as effective measures at the workplace level. The meeting compared the experiences of member States and labour market organisations in carrying out or planning activities.
The discussion emphasised the need to analyse the relationship between work productivity, the better organisation of work, and the quality of working life and employee expertise. The topic should be dealt with as part of ‘flexicurity’ in working life.
A good balance of security and flexibility is needed both in the labour market and in working life. Member States can promote the labour market and social protection systems by supporting the smoothest possible transition from one job to another. Good expertise and effective labour services increase the opportunities of employees to change quickly to new workplaces.
The EU Commission is currently examining, together with Member States and labour market organisations the possibility to draw up general principles on flexicurity. Flexicurity is also a theme of the informal summit meeting in Lahti in October in connection with the Tripartite Social Summit.
The commitment of employees to employment was also raised. The basic requirement of this is naturally justice and non-discrimination in the workplace. The equal treatment of women and men as well as different groups is an important aspect of the discussion on the quality of work. An essential part of equality of treatment is equal pay for equal work.
Longer lifespan and equality are opportunities
The working group led by Minister of Social Affairs and Health Tuula Haatainen found that longer life expectancy, gender equality and increased years of healthy life are accomplishments about which we can be proud. The European Social Model has, by prolonging lifespan, achieved one of its main goals. To respond to changes in the age structure the length of working life must be prolonged, however, as people have more years of working capacity. These objectives are only attainable through the collaboration of the employment, social affairs and health sectors.
Equality mainstreaming must be speeded up, so that the impact on men and women are taken into account in the decisions taken in different sectors. Salary level values also have to be promoted.
Family policy measures, like gender equality promotion, are key means to prolong the careers of men and women. There is no contradiction between the birth rate and the employment of women. On the contrary, high employment among women stands in relation to a high birth rate if child day care services are available and if the demands of working life and training correspond to one another. Changes to pension systems are one instrument used to postpone retirement. The ministers said that it is important to create models to make possible the harmonisation of retirement and work in those situations where pensions are means tested.
Quality of working life by promoting health
The working group of health ministers led by Minister of Health and Social Services Liisa Hyssälä stated that, as the objective is to prolong careers, the health sector’s responsibility is for improving the quality of working life and health promotion, not forgetting gender equality. The common risk factors of major diseases, such as tobacco, alcohol, poor nutrition and lack of exercise, were mentioned in many interventions. These can be influenced at the workplace. In addition, some people need support and healthful preconditions for adjusting to working conditions to be able to work.
Because the working capacity of the unemployed and in particular the long-term unemployed is weaker than that of those in employment, attention needs to be focussed on this issue. The impact of activities can be improved by taking into account the differences in the health of women and men. Many health-related risks have different impacts on women and men. The working group found that employment, social affairs and health policies could, with good cooperation, significantly promote the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy, sustainable development and meet demographic challenges.
The informal ministerial meeting was selected as the Finnish Presidency’s example meeting in gender mainstreaming. It is for this reason that all issues were dealt with from the point of view of equality between women and men.
Ministerial Counsellor Liisa Heinonen, Ministry of Labour, tel: 010 60 48017, 050 396 0155
Project Manager Outi Kuivasniemi, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel: 09 16073230 050 435 0269