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Non-Standard Employment in Europe: Its Development and Consequences for the European Employment Strategy

GPS, Vol. 7 No. 1, (2011)

The last decades have seen an erosion of the traditionally defined “standard
employment relationship” through part-time work, fixed-term contracts,
temp-agency work and self-employment. Whereas many welcome this development
as a blessing for flexible labour markets, others are highly critical
hinting to disastrous intended or unintended side-effects such as low or
volatile income, dead-end jobs instead of stepping stones, high job insecurity,
and poverty in old-age. The European Commission tried to bridge these
two opposing views by conceptualising ‘flexicurity’ as the objective of the
European Employment Strategy, aimed at ‘balancing’ flexibility and security.
Although this oxymoron became common parlance in the meantime,
the concept is still quit ambiguous, leading often to cheap talk or being captured
by various political interests. Furthermore, one of its main goals, the
growth of employment by further increasing labour force participation under
the condition of reducing unemployment and labour market segmentation
has not been achieved and is now even far out of sight due to the recent
economic crisis. The aim of this essay, therefore, is to test the actual and
potential role of non-standard employment in view of the ‘flexicurity’ concept
through systematic descriptive work and conceptual reflections: first by
comparing the development of non-standard employment in 24 EU member
states from 1998 to 2008; second by relating this development to the dynamics
of labour force participation; third by exploring the main (structural,
institutional and behavioural) determinants of this development; and fourth
by discussing – in the light of the Post-Lisbon process – the policy consequences
aimed at ensuring a complementary relationship between flexibility
and security rather than trading-off one against the other.

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