human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Fostering inclusive labour markets

Using the European Pillar of Social Rights to foster inclusive labour markets – what are you doing about it?

The European Union has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) since 23 December 2010. All 28 EU Member States are also signatories but have different views on how to transpose the CRPD’s principles into national legal and policy frameworks, especially the transposition of Article 27 (the right to work and employment). The national policies, developed by each Member State to ensure the implementation the CRPD, are done so in accordance with Member State’s cultural, political and legal traditions. These policies may take the form of an anti-discrimination law (United Kingdom), inclusion without legal obligation (in northern Europe) or a quota system (France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain).

According to the narrower definition of “disability” from Eurostat “persons having a basic activity difficulty, such as sight, hearing, walking, communicating”, the employment rate in the UE-28 in 2011 was 47.3%; almost 20 percentage points less than persons without such difficulties.

At country level, the highest gaps in the employment rates were observed in the Netherlands (43% and 80% respectively) and Hungary (24% and 61%), with differences of more than 37 percentage points between the groups, which contrasts sharply with the situation in Luxembourg, where the smallest variation was observed (2 percentage points).

In their study on the Economic Impact of Inclusive Labour Markets, Dr Stephen and Anne Beyer assess that “while there will be transitional costs (…) the over-riding conclusion of this review is that governments and taxpayers are likely to benefit financially from greater investment in inclusive employment”. Dr Beyer also argues that two models in particular – Supported Employment and Individual Placement and Support – show significant financial benefits for taxpayers and individuals; in addition to assisting people to move out of poverty with better paid jobs than alternatives.

According to this concept of supported employment, the person is employed and at the same time she/he receives the support and/or training provided by a job coach. The staff of the job place will act as a natural support for the person. The job coach remains available at any time, for an unlimited period. This concept involves the entire work environment, both employer and employee, introducing the notion of the “double client”. Support is long-lasting and involves professional issues (integration, learning and development, relationships with the professional environment), as well as those complementary issues such as independent living, the development of social skills, transport, coordination with social actors and so on.

The recently adopted European Pillar of Social Rights is a step in the right direction and delivers a clear message for policy makers developing regulations on the labour market in its principles 3 to 6. Individuals, regardless of their background, should be supported to enter the open labour market, receiving a fair wage and allowing them to become active economic citizens.

In particular, principle 4 on active support to employment, formulated in line with the positive Council Recommendation on the integration of the Long-Term Unemployed into the Labour Market, stresses the importance of “personalised, continuous and consistent support” that is a prerequisite for achieving a successful integration of those further away from the labour market.

Principle 6 also underlines the need that work should receive fair wages, in order to prevent in-work poverty. This is particularly important in the disability sector where too often persons with disabilities don’t earn full wages or have to choose between wages and disability benefits. This situation ensures they are kept in a vicious circle of poverty and stops them from becoming economic citizens that fully participate in and give back to society, incurring costs for taxpayers as highlighted in Dr Beyer’s study.

With legislative tools such as the UN CRPD, the European Disability, the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Council Recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed and others, it is now clearly the responsibility of policy makers at all levels to facilitate the development of more inclusive labour markets. EASPD truly hopes that the European Commission will fully use the opportunities of the European Semester and the new Multiannual Financial Framework to support and encourage Member States in implementing the necessary legal framework to make the labour market accessible to all.

Regardless of the legal weight the Pillar might have in the future, EASPD is also committed to champion these rights and support its members and support services across Europe in showing how the principles of the Pillar of Social Rights can be implemented in the field, what benefit they can bring and what is needed for their successful implementation. As with the supported employment methodology, it’s only by working with the whole environment that we will ensure the inclusion of all individuals in the labour markets.

About the author

Tim Ghilain holds a Master’s degree in European studies from the Catholic University of Louvain. As Senior Policy Officer at the European Association for Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) he works to advocate for inclusive education and employment practices and the development of early intervention services which support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). He is currently facilitating the work of EASPD’s Interest Group on Early Intervention and coordinates EASPD’s participation in the “Developing the Support Services of Tomorrow Taskforce”. Mr Ghilain is also involved in a number of European projects on inclusive education and the employment of persons with disabilities including DESC, ECI AGORA and the IIS Project and also takes part in the European Alliance for Investing in Children.