Publikováno: 14. 3. 2006

Demographic change poses significant practical challenges to commerce businesses of all shapes and sizes. EuroCommerce is keen to ensure that the current debate on demographic change leads to discussion of the practical implications of social change for employers and employment policy

Demographic change poses significant practical challenges to commerce businesses of all shapes and sizes. EuroCommerce is keen to ensure that the current debate on demographic change leads to discussion of the practical implications of social change for employers and employment policy. We also firmly believe that public policy responses to demographic challenges should go hand in hand with moves to secure Europe's long-term competitiveness and create new and better jobs.

Retail businesses face the issue of demographic change every day in their stores. Changing lifestyles, as a result of social change, are reflected in changing customer and employee demands. However, the industry's ability to respond is influenced by, and in some ways restricted by, public policy in a number of areas and we set out below some ways we think policy makers can help.

  1. Practical problems faced by retailers as a result of demographic change

In addition to the potential impact on the competitiveness of the EU economy, a more diverse society, with an ageing population, longer working lives and increased migration presents retailers with some very practical problems. They all have the potential to limit the ability of the industry to grow and contribute to EU economic and social goals as outlined in the Lisbon Agenda:

  • Attracting and retaining good staff is central to the ability of individual retailers to compete. Increasingly diverse communities make recruitment, retention and motivation more complex. What appeals to a 20-year old, will not necessarily appeal to an older worker. What helps attract people of one religious background will not necessarily work for all faiths. Tailoring the way businesses work to ensure that all members of the community feel equally at home, is a real challenge. In addition to recruitment, this complexity poses practical challenges in relation to reward policy, benefit packages, work patterns, hours etc.

  • Ageing populations, with longer working lives make the problem of outdated qualifications and skills particularly acute for employers in sectors heavily dependent on skills, such as retail. Increased migration and mobility result in more people working in communities whose majority language is different to their own mother tongue. Recruiting workers from all parts of the community with relevant skills is a challenge in some of the most socially homogeneous parts of the EU. In diverse and changing communities it is even more difficult.

It is an additional challenge for retailers to keep people motivated to learn throughout their working lives.

  • Increasing cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, combined with an ageing working population and longer working lives requires retailers to be increasingly flexible in their approach to employment.

Different social groups have different lifestyles and so will require different work patterns. Age and family status often determine how and when people want to work. Parents of young children want time off during the school holidays: Students and older workers often look for the opposite and seek to work during the summer months. More and more people have caring responsibilities for elderly relatives and seek part-time or flexible work. Their partners, in turn, may want to maximise their own income to compensate for the loss in overall household income. Not all people are able to commit to, or indeed want permanent, full-time or regular work. Different religious groups, within the same community want different time off from work to spend with their family.

Matching these complex and differing demands with the need to man the checkouts in a superstore, or keep a department store stocked 7 days a week throughout the year requires particular flexibility on behalf of the employer

  1. Where public policy makers can help

The public policy environment within which we operate has a direct influence on the ability of retailers to meet the needs of a changing society. To help, we urge policy makers to focus their efforts on 3 particular areas:

1. Flexibility - increasingly diverse populations lead to an ever more complex range of demands from employees. Different people, from different backgrounds want to work in different ways at different stages of their lives.

To assist us in meeting these demands we would like policy makers to:

a] Focus on providing employers with the flexibility to meet the needs of increasingly diverse populations. Rather than to restrict the use of different employment types, policy makers should focus on helping employers offer a range of options - full-time, part-time, regular, irregular, permanent and temporary - to their employees.
Policy-makers need to be wary of regulating away flexibility by, for example, making the opt-out from the working time directive subject to collective agreement or increasing the cost of employing temporary agency workers.

b] Restricting employer flexibility reduces choice for individual employees. Only by allowing people to work in a way that suits their lifestyle will the EU start to break down some of the barriers that keep people out of work. To facilitate change , European institutions should work to help people understand the benefits of flexibility to both employees and employers. All too often those arguing in favour of greater flexibility are caricatured as arguing for no rules / social protection. This is simply not the case. Flexibility is perfectly compatible with minimum standards and more needs to be done to help develop consensus on the value of flexibility for employees and employers.

c] Careful thought needs to be given to the impact legislation has on the ability of individual employees to work in a way which suits their lifestyle. In particular, we urge policy-makers not to restrict individual choice by over-regulating responsible employers, rather than enforcing existing solutions. We believe this is preferred as a mechanism for dealing with a minority of employers who chose not to comply with minimum standards.

2. Skills - Retail is a labour intensive sector which is reliant on the skills of its people to remain competitive. All too often the skills implications of demographic change are overlooked. We believe improvements need to be made throughout the educational system.

a] Governments of Member States have a responsibility to deliver minimum standards of literacy and numeracy. Despite improvements in recorded performance in schools, we find too many recruits who lack in basic skills. This needs to be tackled within state education systems as a matter of urgency.

b] More still needs to be done to ensure that further education qualifications produce skills that employers value. We also believe that initiatives led by employers themselves, where appropriate, should be recognized by Member States as being of equivalent status. This is even more important given the lengthening of working lives and the need to keep skills relevant via training.

c] Management education in the US is a huge advantage for US business and the US economy. We urge the Commission to introduce a strategy to ensure that the EU becomes a world leader in this area.

d] Ways need to be found to incentivise smaller businesses to increase access to lifelong learning. Funding should be targeted to cover the costs of learning provision and to enable small businesses to fund workplace cover for those employees absent on training programmes.

3. Retirement and Pensions - an ageing population makes the financial sustainability of the welfare state/European social model problematic. Policy makers can help commerce manage this challenge by:

a] Making it easier for older workers to stay on at work. Flexibility appeals to workers of all ages. However, older workers benefit in particular from the ability to work flexibly. Not all older workers want, need or are able to work full-time, throughout the year, on a regular basis.

b] Ensuring benefit systems do not act as a disincentive to older workers who choose to remain in the work force. Ways need to be found to ensure that workers beyond the statutory retirement age can receive both a pension and a salary from employers.

c] Ensuring that Age Legislation does not put up barriers to employing older workers. EuroCommerce welcomes moves to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. However, over zealous implementation of Age rules can act as a disincentive for employers to take on older workers

  1. Responsive retail employers are part of the solution

EuroCommerce members face the practical consequences of demographic change every day. As a result, a number of our members are developing solutions to help turn the challenges posed by demographic change into opportunities. EuroCommerce is keen and willing to help share some of the learning developed by our members with other stakeholders and to learn from the experience of others.

As a sectoral social partner, EuroCommerce would also like to refer to our joint “voluntary guidelines to support age diversity in commerce” signed March 2002 with UNI-Europa Commerce, which deals with topics related to the intergenerational exchange. Together with UNI-Europa Commerce, EuroCommerce has also shown its support for the youth pact. This issue will be discussed further this year during a number of social dialogue meetings.

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