Leuven, Belgium, 3 March 2023 – WeLaR’s first webinar, “European Welfare States in Crisis? Labour Markets in Flux?” aimed at introducing the project to its stakeholders, brought together 42 participants including labour market economists, social scientists and representatives of EU policy think-tanks as well as participants from the European and national social policy spheres.
The event organised by the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) started with a presentation by WeLaR project coordinator Karolien Lenaerts (HIVA KU Leuven), who said that the purpose of this three-year research funded by the Horizon Europe programme is to investigate the impact of four megatrends – globalisation, digitalisation, demographic changes and the green economy – on labour markets and welfare states in Europe. The project will contribute to a better understanding of the trends’ effects and identify policy measures that foster socio-economic resilience and inclusive, sustainable growth, as well as proposing ways to adapt welfare systems so that they can address the challenges posed by these trends and new forms of work.
Next, Bart Vanhercke (European Social Observatory) talked about how the findings of Project WeLaR can inform decision-makers on how to shape the green and digital transition of European economies in a socially fair and inclusive way. Referring to the book “Social Policy in the European Union: State of Play 2022”, which he co-edited, Vanhercke emphasised that while facing challenges of green and technological transformations the EU is operating in a state of permanent crisis as health issues, the economic and financial downturn and a climate crisis unfold in parallel, while a full-scale war is back in Europe. And yet, he argued, catalysed by the Covid-19 crisis, the EU is re-invigorating its social agenda. Bart Vanhercke mentioned several areas where the EU has made progress including minimum wages, occupational health and safety, labour conditions of platform workers and gender equality. Moreover, the Recovery and Resilience Facility also includes initiatives promoting, at least to some extent, social investment.
Commenting on Vanhercke’s presentation, Aída Ponce Del Castillo (ETUI) expressed doubts about the EU governance system’s ability to pursue social goals. In her view, the digital and green economy agendas focus excessively on creating markets and are failing to achieve a balance of economic and social objectives. Aída Ponce Del Castillo also pointed out that EU policymaking lacks the integration of foresight activities that anticipate risks to society and people, assess their impacts and help prevent the unfavourable effects of current and emerging policies. Here, projects like WeLaR are important in carrying out wider analyses to see the big picture. She added that while engaging in analysis and foresight we should not focus only on numbers and indicators, but also bring in qualitative elements.
Zuzanna Kowalik (IBS) presented a snapshot of a topic that WeLaR will investigate further. Together with her colleagues, she researched the differences in job quality and working conditions between native and migrant platform workers (taxi and delivery drivers) in Poland. Their findings show that migrants take up platform jobs due to a lack of income or other job opportunities more often than natives. At the same time, migrants’ job quality is noticeably lower on measures such as contractual terms of employment, working hours, work-life balance, multidimensional deprivation and job satisfaction. Migrants who started a gig job immediately after arriving in Poland are particularly deprived. The institutional context in Poland plays a part: the country has a liberal immigration regime, not least hosting many refugees from Ukraine and Belarus, but little social infrastructure to integrate migrants into the mainstream labour market. Hence, platforms take the part of an “arrival infrastructure” that prolongs social vulnerability rather than mitigating it.
Commenting on Zuzanna Kowalik’s presentation, Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak (SGH) confirmed these findings and noted that many migrants lack access to social protection and also information about their rights as workers. She stressed that it is important also to inform policymakers of the negative impacts of unequal conditions for native and migrant workers so that policies and administrative measures can be taken.
The webinar finished with a presentation by Ursula Holtgrewe (ZSI) of WeLaR’s upcoming activities. She stressed that the WeLaR research consortium seeks to stay close to policymakers, labour market actors, social partners and other stakeholders so as to be able to ask the right questions and keep research relevant to policies ensuring social rights and protection to all the groups that are affected by the rapidly changing job market.
The webinar reached its goal of initiating a discussion between project participants and stakeholders, providing a good foundation for the ongoing sharing of knowledge and insights.
Presentations are available here.