Current trends in casualisation of the workforce in Europe

Isabella Biletta, Eurofound

Drawing on several pieces of research produced by Eurofound in recent years, mapping the situation of employment and working conditions across Member states, this paper analyses the recurrence and consequences of casualisation on European Labour markets.

Since its inception, Eurofound has been studying employment and working conditions in European member states, collecting data through the successive waves of the three European surveys it runs regularly, and especially the European Working conditions Survey. In recent years, several research paths have been followed about atypical forms of work and the characteristics of precarious working situations. Very atypical forms of work, fraudulent working arrangements and new forms of employment have also been part of the analytical corpus. While in 2018, two specific studies on ‘work on demand’ and ‘casual work’ were finalised.

Increasing casualisation of working arrangements is reported. Despite a lack of consistent figures, hiring practices show an increasing use of casual arrangements. On the one hand, these practices allow better adaptation to the nature of the activity, responding to specific sectoral characteristics; on the other hand, they reflect the pressure of reducing labour costs.

Responding to the need for flexibility, various member states reformed their regulation, acknowledging casual forms of work in various ways. Some created new forms of contracting work other amended generic employment regulations. Practices however, go beyond regulatory frameworks leading at times, to misuses of employment arrangements.

Moreover, casual working arrangements structurally impact workers’ rights, businesses fair competition and social cohesion. Primarily aimed at ‘easing’ employment relationships, these forms challenge the working conditions and labour protection of both, casual workers and their counterparts, working under (more) standard arrangements. Against this background, the paper will analyse two main features in current labour markets: business models built around casual forms of work and competition amongst workers.

Improving controls and strengthening casual workers’ voice can help addressing an increased casualisation. However, revisiting the ‘flexibility myth’ would be necessary to fully tackle the issue.