This crisis will have aggravated and brought to the fore the vulnerability of certain workers and sectors of activity.
Will the health, economic and social crisis we are going through profoundly change the way we work and our approach to social welfare? Sylvie Brunet, French MEP and Vice-President of the Renew Europe Group, gives her answers.
How can we help people return to work, especially in the most affected sectors?
First of all, Europe has for the first time put in place an exceptional and temporary instrument called SURE (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency) to provide financial assistance to Member States to finance arrangements for periods of unemployment in order to provide emergency protection for jobs and workers affected by the Covid 19 pandemic.
Secondly, the European institutional players (Council, Commission, Parliament) will have to analyse the economic impact of this crisis on ecosystems and in particular on employment for the months and years to come. It will be essential to help certain sectors and workers to change jobs by mobilising the Globalisation Adjustment Fund or the ESF (European Social Fund) with, for example, targeted training measures.
There is no doubt that, while sectors will be particularly affected in terms of job losses in the coming months, such as tourism, culture and entertainment, we also have the opportunity to create many jobs to ensure the ecological and digital transition, with European support from the Just Transition Fund. What is at stake is therefore the temporality of our actions and their systemic modalities.
In other words, initial measures to cushion the crisis for the most affected workers will have to be put in place through the unemployment insurance systems. But massive training measures will also be essential to accompany the transformation of economic activities (e.g. in the field of energy-efficient renovation of buildings...) at all levels: European, national, regional and local.
In any case, social dialogue at all levels will be decisive in preparing and accompanying the exit from the crisis, taking into account the environmental transition in terms of jobs and skills.
What might tomorrow's work environment look like? Will new models emerge as a result of the crisis we are going through?
Many studies and debates on the future of work had fuelled the celebration of the ILO's centenary in 2019. This research all testified to the strong impact on work of technological progress, the need to green our economies, and demographic changes such as the increase in an ageing population in Europe. New working models have emerged or have been amplified as a result of this health crisis. Thus the use of telework has exploded and shown both its usefulness and sometimes its limits when it is poorly organised or misused.In the same way, this major crisis has shown the indispensable nature of a social protection base, especially in the face of emerging activities such as those of warehouse workers.
Particular attention will need to be paid to young people, who are likely to be most affected by the consequences of this crisis.
Finally, generally speaking, only the emergence of new economic models in the wake of this global crisis will make it possible to innovate in social and employment matters. Thus, the social and solidarity economy or circular economy sectors should develop much more.
Do you think that Europe can encourage the relocation of priority sectors?
Before the crisis, we had already noted and denounced the fact that the EU was sorely lacking in production units. I am convinced that Europe will speed up direct support for strategic companies, which is also provided for in the post-crisis recovery plan.
Thus, the massive investment plan planned to give new impetus to the economic engine over the coming years will result in an industrial recovery plan in Europe, and of course in France in strategic sectors such as health, defence, digital technology, energy, etc. We must also retain the advantages of a single European market that will enable us to assert ourselves in the face of major economic powers on which we have clearly become too dependent (China, India, etc.). This must be done, of course, with a view to carbon neutrality and the creation of sustainable jobs.
Could new types of social assistance emerge at national and European level?
This crisis will have increased and highlighted the vulnerability of certain workers and sectors of activity. New forms of social protection could emerge for self-employed workers for example, but also for young people, single mothers, etc.
And social aid for the most deprived, both at the European level (one third of food aid is financed by European funds) and at the national level, will certainly have to increase.
This crisis has also revealed great capacity for solidarity between people and support for front-line staff in managing the pandemic. This movement must continue.
Should universal income be introduced?
We must certainly question the need for a guaranteed social minimum income as a basis for solidarity with people in situations of fragility.
There are very different conceptions and definitions of this universal income. Some recommend the establishment of a minimum and flat-rate individual income, without conditionality. The Veblen Institute - a group of experts and academics committed to the ecological transition - even suggests the creation of a "monetary drone" and the payment by the ECB (European Central Bank) of a monthly sum of about 120 euros to each of the 340 million citizens, including children, of the euro zone! This innovative idea is more a matter of "direct money creation".
Others suggest merging the various social benefits into a single minimum income, or creating a minimum activity income, which would then be more a matter of redistribution.
In conclusion, this global health, economic and social crisis with dramatic consequences for many people should also be a source of innovation and acceleration of the ecological and digital transition, the urgency of which is no longer to be demonstrated. However, only renewed modes of governance, involving citizens more closely and genuine solidarity in combating the inequalities that will increase, will make it possible to learn the lessons of this crisis and mitigate its damage.