Precarious employment in Europe

Policy Study


Authors: Pedro Miguel CARDOSO, Isil ERDINC, Jeroen HOREMANS, Scott LAVERY

Introduction of the paper

The paper focuses on four different aspects of precarious employment: the politics of precarious employment in Europe (‘zero hour’ contracts and the commodification of work), outsourcing and offshoring (consequences on wages and employment in Europe), precarious employment and gender equality and trade unions and the unionization rights of precarious workers.

The first paper will offer a broad definition of precarious employment within which the other arguments can be positioned. The definition seeks to unify the ‘economic’ and ‘sociological’ accounts of precarious employment which dominate the literature. The paper views precarious employment as part of a strategy pursued by political and economic elites to extend and deepen the commodification of work. It will then provide a case study of precarious employment in Europe. Specifically, it will look at the recent increase of ‘zero hour’ contracts in the United Kingdom. Drawing upon the lessons from the UK case, the paper will conclude by arguing that the commodification of labour through precariatisation should be rejected by European socialists for economic, social and political reasons.

The second paper examines the effects of outsourcing and offshoring on wages and employment in Europe. Globalization is a key phenomenon of our time and has many effects on Europe’s economic, political and social life. During the last decades we have witnessed an increasing financial and economic deregulation and an intensification of Globalization. Outsourcing and offshoring are practices that reflect this trend. In this paper I will explore if there is a link between them and the downward pressure on wages and employment in Europe.

The third paper discusses several difficulties that challenge policy makers in their struggle to cultivate gender equality. It focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of non-standard employment, and in particular part-time work, as a way to increase gender equality. Unfortunately for policy makers, no single policy seed grows in a similar way across the different European soils in which they are planted. With social inclusion through high quality employment as well as emancipation of women high on the progressive agenda, in this paper it is argued that achieving both goals simultaneously is not done easily and that past policy failures should not be forgotten. If we do not think about how we handle caring needs in society, we will fail to reach both policy goals simultaneously as feminists have argued for a long time. Therefore, in this paper men and women’s relative income contributions are brought back to the centre of the debate.

The final paper analyses how precarous workers could defend their rights better. It states that trade unions are still major actors for the workers and being a member of a trade union is a fundamental human right to assure the social rights and justice. The socialist and social democratic parties are also important actors who could produce policies that could assure the unionization of the precarious workers so that they could have their own organization to defend their rights and demand better jobs. The paper presents strategies that the socialist and social democratic parties could adopt in order to assure the unionization of the precarious workers across Europe. The legal frameworks and policies in different countries are studied in order to find out which legal system assures a higher rate of unionization and a more reliable and functional collective bargaining system.

Background on the FEPS Young Academics Network

The Young Academics Network (YAN) was established in March 2009 by the Foundation of European Progressive Studies (FEPS) with the support of the Renner Institut to gather progressive PhD candidates and young PhD researchers, who are ready to use their academic experience in a debate about the Next Europe. The founding group was composed of awardees of the “Call for Paper” entitled “Next Europe, Next Left” – whose articles also help initiating the FEPS Scientific Magazine “Queries”. Quickly after, with the help of the FEPS member foundations, the group enlarged – presently incorporating around 30 outstanding and promising young academics.

FEPS YAN meets in the Viennese premises of Renner Institut, which offers great facilities for both reflections on the content and also on the process of building the network as such. Both elements constitute mutually enhancing factors, which due to innovative methods applied make this Network also a very unique project. Additionally, the groups work has been supervised by the Chair of the Next Left Research Programme, Dr. Alfred Gusenbauer – who at multiple occasions joined the sessions of the FEPS YAN, offering his feedback and guidance.

This paper is one of the results of the third cycle of FEPS YAN, (the first one ended with three papers in June 2011, while the second one led to five papers in spring 2013), in which six key themes were identified and were researched by FEPS YAN working groups. These topics encompass:Precarious employment in Europe”; “Full employment: A progressive vision for Europe”; “Get the party started: Modernizing progressive politics”; “The 2014 European elections”; “Enhancing EU enlargement” and “Young and easily allured? A comparative analysis on the relationship between populism and youth in Europe. Each of the meetings is an opportunity for the FEPS YAN to discuss the current state of their research, presenting their findings and questions both in the plenary, as also in the respective working groups. The added value of their work is the pan-European, innovative, interdisciplinary character – not to mention, that it is by principle that FEPS wishes to offer a prominent place to this generation of academics, seeing in it a potential to construct alternative that can attract young people to progressivism again. Though the process is very advanced already, the FEPS YAN remains a Network – and hence is ready to welcome new participants.

FEPS YAN plays also an important role within FEPS structure as a whole. The FEPS YAN members are asked to join different events (from large Conferences, such as FEPS “Call to Europe” or “Renaissance for Europe” and PES Convention to smaller High Level Seminars and Focus Group Meetings) and encouraged to provide inputs for publications (i.e. for FEPS Scientific Magazine “Queries”). Enhanced participation of the FEPS YAN Members in the overall FEPS life and increase of its visibility remains one of the strategic goals of the Network for 2014.

For more information please contact the FEPS colleagues in charge of the FEPS YAN’s coordination: Ania Skrzypek, FEPS Senior Research Fellow at

Karl Renner Institut
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