The tension of being young and caught between uncertainty and responsibility
Young people are more often employed with precarious working conditions than older workers. On average, a third of young workers in the EU in 2015 did not have a secure job. Instead, they experience temporary agency work, commercial contracts and all manner of fixed-term contracts, from day-to-day contracts to zero-hours contracts. At the same time, the applicable employment law is not always complied with.
The following are examples of conditions experienced by young EU employees:
“Even when I was still studying, I knew that it would be difficult to find work later; everyone on my course knew it. We all augmented our education with additional qualifications. I also do voluntary work, but it’s difficult. I live with my parents; there’s no other way. Many of my friends have emigrated to Australia, Canada or Dubai.” 26-year-old, Ireland.
“I gained a Master’s degree in Renewable Energies. I obtained a fixed-term contract for six months on low pay. The uncertainty of whether or not my contract would be extended was horrid. Is it worth moving house? Making new friends? I was relieved to obtain the signature on my next fixed-term contract – but of course there was no mention of a pay increase. As the next renewal date approached, there was huge insecurity among the employees. One had previously attempted to establish a works council; he was given his notice. No one dared to try it again.” 27-year-old, Germany.
Overall, despite European measures such as the Youth Guarantee and the European Solidarity Corps, the following statement by a young Irish woman encapsulates the feelings of today’s young Europeans: “There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future.”
This uncertainty derives among other things from the deregulation of employment protection legislation (EPL), with the aim of tackling unemployment. The results of this strategy are ambivalent, however.
A criterion of Christian social doctrine
Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, one of the fathers of the Catholic social doctrine and founder of the Young Christian Workers movement, said pithily, “Every young worker is worth more than all the gold in the world”. This is the criterion by which a society should measure itself. Every person is called to build the Kingdom of God – peace, justice, solidarity – in their own environment. On the one hand, every person is responsible for carrying out this mission. On the other, the conditions must be in place to enable people to fulfil these responsibilities. Every person should also contribute with their work towards improving the world.
To this end, participants of the European Seminar of the Young Christian Workers, YCW, in 2013, entitled “Talkin’ ‘bout my generation”, expressed a desire for “good work”, stating: “human health is more important than profit” and “the interests of employees are as important as the interests of employers. Employees and employers should mutually respect one another. We have the right to contribute to shaping our jobs.”
Workers who are unable to plan their own employment situation are unable to accept responsibility within their families or in wider society. There is a clear contradiction between these values based on the God-given dignity of every person, and the experiences quoted here.
Towards resolving these contradictions
This contradiction raises the following questions:
Why is human work taxed, but not that of machines? This question assumes additional urgency in these times of advancing digitalisation.
In the EU, to differing degrees in the various states, there are more people than available gainful employment. Why do we not share out the opportunities better by reducing working hours? This would also give people more time for their families and undertakings in civil society.
The competition between individual countries for “systemically important companies” leads to competitive deregulation of the employment markets and reductions in corporate taxes. Why can’t this reciprocal competition be tackled more strongly with European “re-regulations” through the employment protection legislation and minimum taxation rates?
Failure to comply with the employment legislation is illegal. Why is compliance not more strictly controlled?
In public reports it is often stressed that young people are important because they are “the future”. Except that we, the young people, are already here. We are not only the future, but also the present. So young people have the right to full social security, to equal opportunities and to dignity in our working and personal lives, not tomorrow – but today!
Translated from the original text in German
EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.