A stronger economy, social justice and jobs
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This event will take place on Thursday, 21 October at 11.00am Irish Time.
The speakers will be Massimiliano Mascherini, Eurofound’s Head of Social Policies, Ana Carla Pereira, Employment and Social Advisor to European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit and Dr. Shana Cohen, Director of TASC – Ireland’s Think Tank for Social Change.
This event will be moderated by Maria Jepsen, Deputy Director Eurofound.
And Shana will focus on the specific challenges facing the most vulnerable groups and how leaders, civil society, social partners and policy makers must redouble their efforts as Europe emerges from the pandemic.
Participants are invited to submit their questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Event reportEurofound, in collaboration with the European Commission Representation in Ireland, and European Movement Ireland, held an online event on Equality and Inclusion in a Post-Pandemic EU. Maria Jepsen, Deputy Director Eurofound, who moderated the online event was joined by a panel of three guest speakers: Massimiliano Mascherini, Eurofound’s Head of Social Policies, Ana Carla Pereira, Employment and Social Advisor to the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, and Shana Cohen, Director of TASC – Ireland’s Think Tank for Social Change. Before opening the floor to the three speakers, Maria highlighted the focus of today’s event which discussed what needs to be tackled in order to create more open and fair societies. Maria also outlined the structure of proceedings – first, opening the floor to the guest speakers, followed by a questions and answers session, and then closing remarks. Massimiliano Mascherini, Head of Social Policies at Eurofound Massimiliano began his opening remarks by addressing the effects on society brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic – noting that previous pandemics such as the Black Death and Spanish Flu had reduced societal inequalities during their time. However, COVID-19 served the opposite purpose in that it has exacerbated inequality. Mr Mascherini stated that this was multidimensional in nature and effected the most vulnerable in society more generally. For example, due to overrepresentation, low-paid workers were most likely to lose their jobs and rely on benefits. Due to their low levels of income, these individuals were also more exposed to the detrimental health effects posed by COVID-19 – although a full picture of this has not yet been formed. Had governments around Europe not intervened with financial supports, the increase in inequality would have been 2-3 times more. Mr Mascherini continued by noting that the gap in wealth inequality had also increased. Spending decreased by 50-60% in some countries, while lower-paid workers had far lower spending and saving caps than their wealthier counterparts. While no difference has occurred within employment on the labour market, the changes in work-life balance seen during COVID-19 have been shouldered heavily upon women, who have been impacted strongest. 29% of women found it harder to concentrate on their job compared to 11% of men, and 26% of women also reported that they felt their family was an obstacle to their work. Only 7% of men reported this. Massimiliano also reflected on young people who have been hit very hard by the pandemic, and that circumstances felt during the financial crisis look like they may be repeated upon them. These people have been working in sectors and under contracts which are the most vulnerable. In addition, COVID-19 has reversed longstanding trends in mental health as young people are now experiencing illness at higher rates than other age groups. Shana Cohen, Director of TASC – Ireland’s Think Tank for Social Change: Shana noted that Ireland is a microcosm of what is happening at a European level. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the longstanding issues impacting society. As an example, Ms Cohen spoke generally about the levels of unemployment within the country. The youth unemployment rate is the largest by any age group and has increased massively. Unemployment has been assisted by the number of people that are not in education. This is at 17.2% - double the number of any other small European country. When looking at minorities in society, disabled people are employed at half the rate of any other European country, while Ireland holds the second-widest gap in employment between those with disabilities and others without. Migrants are also more likely to have lower levels of income than Irish families and so have also been opened to feel the financial effects from COVID-19 at stronger levels. Ms Cohen also briefly touched upon cases of domestic abuse and violence which have risen considerably during the pandemic. These have had huge impacts on the mental health of women. Following on from this, Shana provided an overview of some of the policy responses by government aimed to address social inequalities in Ireland. These included the National Development Plan and the Pathways to Work programme. She noted that more investment is needed within the childcare and mental health sectors, before finishing her contribution by noting that real policy ambitions should not be set just to get people into jobs – but better jobs in the future. Ana Carla Pereira, Employment and Social Advisor to the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights: Ana Carla began by stating that we must celebrate how we have reacted as a continent. Compared to the financial crisis – we have seen the levels of support provided to the most vulnerable of us across Europe. She also commented that the European Union has given member state governments the financial space to continue their recoveries – but also with a focus on looking forward to NextGeneration EU. However, Ms Pereira also stressed that there are still underlying weaknesses within society, and that the EU will continue to work to alleviate those vulnerabilities. Accounting for specific points made by the two previous speakers, she noted that it is now very clear to everyone that there are now essential workers – where before the pandemic, these were usually seen as hidden workers. She stated that this is an important lesson of a need to revalue all professions. Legislatively, the European Commission has put forward a proposal on Minimum Wage as a message to member states to bring in a decent wage to those who perform essential work. Ms Pereira then spoke more about the consequences of COVID-19 on young people entering the labour market – and how much they have been affected by the pandemic. She stressed that the EU’s attention is at the core of this - noting that 2022 was recently announced by the European Commission as the “European Year of Youth.” Programmes such as ALMA (Aim, Learn, Master, Achieve) – which supports young people to take up work experience abroad – will also help with entry into the labour market and access to high-quality education. Ana Carla also touched upon how work/life balance has been impacted during the pandemic – particularly with regard to how the demands of work have changed, and how this, in turn, has affected people's mental health as there has been less of a chance to disconnect back into private life. Digitalisation has also changed the nature of the workplace, and this also brings new challenges and dimensions to health. She noted that the European Commission has presented a framework on occupational safety and health in the workplace which will look at all these elements – including the idea of a zero-level tolerance on deaths in the workplace. Ms Pereira then provided an overview of current initiatives which are in the pipeline. The first of these relates to Platform work. Although exacerbated during the pandemic – this line of work has been ongoing for some time and is becoming more of a phenomenon. However, working conditions for those in this sector remain very precarious. Therefore, proposals are forthcoming to address this situation. The second of these includes an initiative on care – with proposals to be brought forth next year. The COVID-19 crisis has displayed how caring has been at the centre of our lives. It has also shown how much unpaid work takes place which is often not valued appropriately.
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