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Friday, 24 May 2013

Mini-Jobs: According to Flemish party Open Vld and employer’s organization Unizo, Belgium should follow Germany on the path towards underpaid and underprotected jobs. Is the ‘race to the bottom’ spreading over Europe?!

Slightly surprising news from Belgium: the liberal-conservative Flemish-Belgian party Open Vld has made a U-turn and is now in favor of the so-called Mini-Jobs, after months of resistance against it.

Mini-jobs are jobs, which are rewarded with a maximum of €450 per month. These jobs are not liable for income taxes and social security premiums, but consequently offer no social security protection for the workers that have such a Mini-job. Besides that, the maximum of €450 per month is not enough for a person or household to live from. Consequently, people are usually forced to take another (mini-)job in order to avoid poverty.

The Flemish (i.e. written in Dutch) newspaper Het Nieuwsblad wrote upon this developing story:

Open Vld states that it is time for the introduction of ‘flexible, affordable (temporary) labour’, like the German Mini-jobs. Labour unions and social-democrats have always resisted against the introduction of the German-style Mini-jobs. According to these stakeholders, the Mini-jobs lead to an increase in poverty, diminishing job-security and social inequality. However, from now on they face severe headwinds from the liberal-conservatives. Open Vld supports the call from Karel van Eetvelt, chairman of the Belgian employer’s organization Unizo, to introduce an ‘adjusted version’ of the mini-jobs in our country.

Open Vld-chairwoman Gwendolyn Rutten:’I don’t like the expression Mini-jobs, due to the negative connotation it might bring. In spite of that, we are the demanding party for the introduction of a system for flexible, accessible and affordable labour, maybe/maybe not on an hourly basis, in order to lead people to the labour market more quickly’.

According to Rutten, there is a large need for this kind of labour, especially in industries like the food, beverage and hospitality industry and the healthcare industry. A precondition is that these mini-jobs don’t replace the regular jobs.

The Flemish Social-Democrats, represented by the Sp.A of Johan Vande Lanotte, are not in favour of the mini-jobs. In Germany, 5 million people work in such jobs, but in the country with the strongest economy in Euro poverty has become twice as high as in Flanders, since the introduction of these mini-jobs. The government made occasional labour less expensive, but this is about ‘making an occasional buck’ every now and then, according to Vande Lanotte. The emergence of permanent Mini-jobs should not be a target of this policy. People cannot make ends meet with €450 per month, he added.

This morning, there has been a discussion upon this topic on BNR business radio. Some disturbing data were mentioned during this discussion:  
  • 7.5 million workers in Germany currently have such a mini-job;
  • Currently 25% of every new job is a mini-job;
  • 50% of every new job in the food, beverage and hospitality industry is a mini-job;
  • People with mini-jobs are often forced to take a second job to get sufficient income;
  • People with a mini-job are considered to be the new poor;
  • Only retirees seem to profit from the mini-jobs, as they can add a few bucks to their pension payments; 
Michael Moore’s shocking documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’ gravely showed a.o. the negative consequences of the American equivalent of mini-jobs: poor people in a desperate situation, who have to work for 16 hours per day to make ends meet, thus neglecting their families and children. Children run wild and start to skip school, thus aiming at a future of joblessness, drug addiction and lurking criminality and victimship.

Workers in such jobs might get caught in a poverty trap, without having the chance of ever getting out. They probably don’t have a right for social security, they are out-of-scope for the labour agencies (‘not unemployed’) and when they get ill, someone else gets their job. It seems to be one step closer to 21st century ‘virtual’ slavery in this European race-to-the-bottom and it ultimately leads to a reduced group of ‘haves’, a small group of extremely wealthy ‘haves’ and a large group of ‘have nots’.

People, who don’t believe me, only have to look at the extreme numbers of foodstamps that are handed out in the US monthly. In April, 2013 a record 23-million households has been living on foodstamps: one-in-five households in the US. Many of these people probably have one or two (mini-)jobs.

Besides that, employers get spoilt by such ‘no strings attached’  labour like the mini-jobs, as these offer exactly the wrong kind of flexibility. Workers with these kinds of jobs can be treated with disdain by the higher-paid workers and can be tossed away like a used paper towel, when they don’t meet the high company standards that even these jobs seem to have nowadays.

Companies that care for (all) their workers, should offer them a decent salary. And companies that can’t pay a decent salary nowadays, seemingly don’t have what it takes to survive this crisis! This statement on my behalf might sound too harsh, but the streets are currently littered with companies that could only survive in good times, but failed hopelessly in the current, bad times.

In my daily situation, I start to notice a more harsh stance of employers towards their employees. The national attitude of employers seems to be: ‘my way or the highway’. Employers want simply the best and most flexible workers and don’t settle for less anymore. The awkward economic situation has changed the labour market in a massive supply-market, where demanding companies only look for the best-of-the-best.  

The extremely diminished demand for consumption and business2business products on the European markets led to a substantial overcapacity in almost any industry. Many companies in Europe are currently in a situation wherein they strongly reduce their overcapacity and only want to maintain workers that work very hard, but cost their company very little money. All others can go! This is an predictable, understandable and defendible paradigm shift in the current labour market, when compared to the same labour market eight years ago.

However, when the floodgates of underpaid and underprotected jobs are opened, this leads inevitably to deterioration of all job payments and a deterioration of jobs in general, except for the best paid management jobs. The demand of Open Vld in the earlier mentioned article, ‘that the Mini-jobs should not replace the regular jobs’ is made in vain: this will definitely happen in many, many regular, steady jobs.

The European youngsters already suffer from strongly diminished job security and the elderly workers might follow soon, when their current fixed jobs are exchanged for flexible jobs with strongly reduced payments. Mini-jobs might be a soaring phenomena soon, as I expect many countries to follow the German example.

I am definitely not per sé against more flexibility in the labour market, but I am against a situation on the labour market where nobody has any kind of security upon his job anymore. Flexibility on the labour market is only successful when there is something in it for the workers too and not only for the employers alone. The former is not so obvious as the latter, unfortunately.

The Rheinland model with its high job security, good salary payments for everybody and substantial welfare provisions always suited continental Europe fine and brought the continent prosperity and fortune in the past seventy years. It would be a shame to toss this all away, in favor of the Anglo-Saxon model with its focus on shareholder’ value, its limited job-security and its extreme rewards for the top-layer of specialized workers and managers.

Therefore I wish the Belgian political parties good luck and I hope that they offer the mini-jobs a critical assessment before introducing them in Flanders and Wallony. I also hope that the Germans don’t continue much further on this path-to-the-bottom.

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