Austicurity? Unpacking EU Labour Market Policy in the Aftermath of the Financial Crash

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.1.04 (Tower One)
Thomas Hastings, Research Associate, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Jason Heyes, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
The following paper explores political and state power, focusing on the outcomes of European Union labour market policy in the post-crisis era (i.e. 2008 onwards).  The period since 2008 has involved substantial challenges associated with both job quantity and quality. Notably, unemployment has increased to an alarming level in several EU states (e.g. Greece, Spain and other ‘crisis states’) and labour market transitions have become more difficult (particularly for young people).  In additional those jobs which are available have become less secure in nature, epitomised by the rise of zero-hour contracts in the UK and other uncertain contractual relations within and out with the informal economy in many EU states. The aim of this paper is to examine the role of national and European Union policies in responding to, and shaping, developments in European labour market regulation. 

The following paper explores development of national labour market policies in the EU, based around the EC’s four ‘flexicurity’ pillars: contractual flexibility, lifelong learning, active labour market measures and inclusive social protection schemes. Developed during the early 2000s, flexicurity was intended to deliver high rates of sustainable employment.  Each of the four policy areas has been severely affected by the 2008 financial crisis and the search for ways to stimulate economic recovery and jobs growth continues. For instance, employment protections have been weakened in many EU states and ‘jobseekers’ have come under additional pressure to accept available work, regardless of its suitability and quality under workfare initiatives. The timing and pace of reform has varied substantially across the EU.  Additonally economic difficulties and political choices at national level have been impacted by institutional forces at the supranational level (including key, impactful roles for the ECB and IMF).  

The paper will explain the uneven nature of labour policy developments and analyse consequences for the inclusiveness and the job-creating potential of national ‘employment regimes’. We offer two main contributions; firstly, via a mapping exercise, we outline how responses to the crisis have impacted national government policies relating to dimensions of flexicurity and whether there is evidence of convergence or divergence across the EU.  An appraisal of the impact of the austerity narrative is explicit within this discussion.  Secondly, we explore the catalysts of change and responses linked to policy initiatives before assessing whether distinct employment models are now harder to ascertain within the EU.