Demographic change in the European labour market
As a result of demographic evolution and the trend towards a higher quality of life in all the countries of the European Union, the ratio of younger age groups to older age groups has changed, with the latter taking on a more central role in quantitative terms. This alteration in society’s age structure is visible in the job market as well because the average age of workers in companies is increasing significantly. In fact, it is expected that in just a few years a high percentage of the workforce will be made up of older workers.
Demographic data and indices corroborate the foregoing. Take for example the projections made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which forecast that the proportion of workers between the ages of 45 and 64 with respect to the total population of workers (ages 14 to 64) will be 41.3% in the year 2025. This means that by then almost half of all workers will be over age 45.
Nonetheless, at this time, participation by older people in the European job market remains low, and many workers leave the job market at relatively early ages. In recent decades it has become a common practice for companies to rejuvenate their personnel by means of early retirement programmers and incentives that encourage older people to stop working. In the European Union, the mean percentage of persons who are inactive due to retirement between the ages of 50 and 74 continues to be very high (65.8% in 2017) and it has barely fallen in the past decade.
This panorama is having significant effects on multiple dimensions of social and economic life, especially in terms of the composition of the job market and the orientation of social protection systems (especially pensions, healthcare and services for the elderly). For this reason the EU has taken various steps to foment Active Ageing (AA), the aim of which is to increase the participation of older workers in the job market.
Active Ageing as a new labour market approach
In a context such as this one it is important to develop and implement comprehensive and effective AA strategies that tackle the main barriers preventing the participation of older workers in the job market. We are talking about suppressing incentives that encourage an early end to productive life, stimulating employment among older people and seeing that conditions are in place to allow workers to continue working effectively for as long as possible. And also helping older workers update their skills and avoid the problem of their competences becoming obsolete, which will allow them to preserve and improve their work capacity.
The underlying idea is to establish an AA culture that stimulates development and brings with it new opportunities for economic growth. And this is in the best interest of all social partners.
What has been done so far to make AA a reality? Is there dialogue between job market agents to incorporate AA? One response by governments and social partners to the problems arising in relation to the ageing of Europe’s active population has been the creation of a framework agreement. This agreement is intended to facilitate both the participation in the job market of older workers up to the age of retirement and also to promote an intergenerational approach. Representatives of businesses and workers —specifically, BusinessEurope; the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises; the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises; and the European Trade Union Confederation— signed this agreement on March 8th 2017. It seeks to increase the number of workplaces that are healthy, safe and productive for all workers until the legally established age of retirement. The agreement suggests interventions concerning health and safety at the workplace, such as the following:
- Adjustment of work processes and workplaces;
- Re-distribution/allocation of tasks to workers;
- Effective prevention strategies and risk assessment, taking into account existing legislative obligations, including training of all workers on health and safety rules at the workplace;
- Voluntary health promotion including, for example, awareness-raising actions;
- Knowledge-building among management personnel at the appropriate levels in order to address challenges and possible solutions in this field;
- Health and safety measures taking account of the physical and psychological health of workers;
- Review of health and safety measures by management and health and safety representatives, in accordance with existing legislative requirements.
This agreement is a good example of how social dialogue and intervention by social partners can contribute to the construction of a suitable framework that facilitates and promotes productive activity among older workers.