New EU regulations about precarious employment

Social Europe has published an article by Agnieszka Piasna about a new EU directive on irregular work.

Constantly changing and erratic working hours have become a common experience for European workers. In fact, as many as one in three employees in the EU-28 reported having irregular working hours (Figure 1). Most common is a changing number of daily working hours (reported by 39 per cent of employees), not having fixed start and finishing times (33 per cent) and working hours that change on a weekly basis (31 per cent). And all these forms of irregular work have become more widespread in recent years.

This boom is largely driven by the cost-saving human-resource strategy of closely matching staffing levels to peaks in demand, facilitated by new technologies which enable easy task allocation. Irregular working hours have infamously materialised as zero-hours contracts—but also as on-demand work without guaranteed working hours, online labour platforms, voucher-based work or ‘gig’ economy work more broadly.

The main concern with irregular working hours is that for workers they mean unstable earnings, insufficient work, little (if any) protection vis-à-vis the employer and an unpredictability which makes the planning of responsibilities outside work, such as caring for dependants, very difficult. While some would argue that greater flexibility at work responds well to changing lifestyles and individual preferences, the prevailing experience is that of uncertainty, stress and poor work-life balance. There is thus a growing need for policy measures to curb the use and limit the negative consequences of unpredictable and irregular hours. …

The directive is … a progressive step, yet it replicates some of the paradoxes of EU employment policy. It juggles more protection for workers with greater flexibility for employers, and greater predictability of work with no barriers to the development of new and precarious forms of work. It does not ban zero-hours contracts but looks for solutions to provide a modicum of protection to workers and, at least to some extent, to increase the predictability of their work, without really acting on the issue of the variability of hours.

Meanwhile, intensified demands for increased labour-market flexibility accentuate the problems of workers in precarious positions—who are rarely able to avail themselves of their formal rights, as afforded by EU employment regulation, because of their extreme marginality and the absence of collective representation.

 

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