March 25, 2010
The economic crisis is having a profound impact on labour markets, exposing a huge gulf in the pay and conditions on offer in the public and private sectors.
UEAPME, a European lobby group representing small firms, summed it up neatly today when they warned that the workforce will soon be made up of insiders who have security but not flexibility, and outsiders who must be flexible without having security.
Back in the city I know best, government workers are refusing to answer phones, introduce efficiencies in how they work, and accept pay reductions – safe in the knowledge that they won’t be fired.
Staff in the passport office have caused a serious crisis this week through industrial action, behaving as though they have a divine right to their job and current pay levels.
Meanwhile, the private sector can sack staff, cut salaries and shift away from recruiting permanent staff in favour of precarious, short-term contracts (without the perks and pensions on offer in the public sector).
It’s also clear that employers are now less inclined to invest in training workers/contractors, leaving a growing pool of freelancers responsible for developing their own skills.
In Brussels, people like to talk about ‘flexicurity’ – the idea that we need a flexible, dynamic workforce where people have the confidence of job security. It’s a noble idea.
But right now, it would appear to be way out of kilter: security and flexibility must go hand-in-hand.
The gap must be narrowed or the resentment between public and private sector workers will continue to grow – and private sector staff will see their skillset diminish and productivity suffer.
That’s not good for employers, workers or the politicians they elect.