Social protection schemes in Europe have mostly been designed for the open-ended, full-time contract and have not kept pace with the changes that have taken place in the world of work. In an increasingly diverse world of work, modernising social protection and social safety nets is needed to guarantee social inclusion.
In 2018, the EU proposed new recommendations to improve access to social protection for workers and the self-employed:
The World Employment Confederation-Europe supports the main approach of the EU Recommendation which is in line with the notion of social innovation. The promotion of the concept of transferable and portable rights has been particularly welcomed as it is one of the key policy recommendations in our Europe 2024 Vision. The World Employment Confederation-Europe calls on EU policies to rethink protection schemes to ensure the sustainability of national social models by implementing these policy actions.
Improving EU citizens’ social protection rights is also a key area within the European Pillar of Social Rights. Proclaimed in 2017, it sets out 20 principles and rights to guide European and national policies in building fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. It says for instance that regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship, workers, and, under comparable conditions, the self-employed, have the right to adequate social protection.
In response to a public consultation launched by the European Commission in 2020 to obtain the views of social partners and stakeholders on the foreseen action plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the World Employment Confederation-Europe reiterates the importance of the Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed as the relevant framework to provide social protection for diverse forms of work and encourage to lay focus in its implementation.
In February 2023, the EU High-Level Group on Social Protection and the Welfare State presented its Report including in its recommendations a call for access to social protection for all, irrespective of the contract or form of work, and a focus on skills enhancement and training throughout the working life. These recommendations are welcomed by the World Employment Confederation-Europe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that basic minimum levels of protection need to be available to all workers irrespective of how engage with work. The WEC Social Impact Report 2020 analyses social protection coverage for 8 types of benefits across diverse forms of work and about 40 countries. It concludes that shows that an employment contract remains the key to formal social protection coverage. In 90% of the countries analysed, agency workers and workers in other forms of contractual employment enjoy full statutory access to unemployment and sickness benefits. Partial access to those benefits is available in the remaining countries. Self-employed workers are significantly more vulnerable than workers with an employment contract.
The report further establishes that one challenging feature of current social protection systems is the discrepancy between statutory and effective access to social protection benefits for employed workers. Eligibility criteria, such as thresholds in terms of working days to be reached, can prevent some groups to access benefits in case of unemployment and sickness.
The crisis can be used as an opportunity to speed up the innovation of safety nets, taking inspiration from the private employment services sector in providing protection schemes for a dynamic workforce. Read more on our proposals to speed up Social Innovation to create new safety nets for diverse forms of work on the road to recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.