Vulnerable workers and groups

Employment protection is at present heavily discussed in many countries. Many of these debates emphasize a double risk due to the selective effect of restructuring. In many countries, early retirement has been, or still is, a common practice: older workers are leaving companies and labour markets, leading to a loss of experience and know-how.

On the other hand, restructuring involving downsizing often leads in the first instance to the termination of fixed-term and short-term contracts, as well as agency workers, which has an impact on young workers, who are over-represented in those categories.

These categories of workers are vulnerable, not only because they have to leave their job, but also because many of them do not enjoy the same support, the same packages, or the same transition opportunities as other employees.

In several countries, if a worker is not directly employed by a company undergoing restructuring, which is the case for most agency workers, or if a worker is not being made redundant in official legal terms, then the worker does not benefit from most of the social packages, or the social plans, drawn up to help redundant workers.

For 20 years, the EU has been trying to promote new types of employment contracts with appropriate frameworks. But in most countries, legal and social frameworks that address restructuring are lagging behind this development when it comes to managing redundancies. They mostly, and sometimes exclusively, take into account open-ended employment relationships. Therefore whenever restructuring takes place, the issue of unequal treatment remains very sensitive, and this issue has been thrown into sharp relief by the recent economic crisis.