Company Measures for Retention and Reintegration of Workers at Risk of Exclusion: European Experience with Older Workers

1. Introduction

Over the years, the European Foundation has conducted extensive research on workers at risk of exclusion. The reasons for exclusion are manifold, among them are most prominent:
• Low skill levels,
• Poor health,
• Disability,
• Age,
• Gender,
• Working conditions,
• Employment contract,
• Being migrant workers.

Very many of these workers at risk of exclusion do, however, want to find, remain in or return to employment. In many countries exclusion is not found only in ‘unemployment’ but in other forms of ‘inactivity’. Currently people with disability or long-term health problems are a particularly important group.
Poor health and disability increase the likelihood of both unemployment and early retirement: according to figures from the Labour Force Survey of 2002, 52% of people with disabilities are economically inactive compared with 28% of non-disabled people. A majority of workers with a disability have developed this during the course of their working life. As many of these disabilities are not visible, public awareness of this phenomenon is not very strong.

2. Policy Initiatives

But, there are, at different levels, policy initiatives which try to redress the situation. The following highlights some of the measures taken at the level of the European Union:
• 2002 — Joint Report on Labour Force Participation and Active Ageing.
• 2003 — Resolution of the Council on promoting employment of people with disabilities.
• 2004 — Joint Report on Social Inclusion.
• 2005 — Report on the contribution of health to the economy of the EU.
• 2005 — Disabled people: European Action Plan 2006-2007.
• 2005 — Green Paper on Promoting Mental Health.

Additionally, the European Foundation, as a policy advice body, has conducted its own research in this field, resulting in documentation of good practice, real-life examples from companies across the EU. Based on these, but also taking into account the accumulated knowledge of other reliable sources which have documented practices inside and outside of companies, a disability management model has been developed, based on these main pillars:
• Promoting employee health to create a healthy working environment.
• Managing identified risks through proactive responses to emerging conditions.
• Intervening early when an employee suffers an injury.
• Case managing or coordinating return to work for long-term absent employees.
The main thrust of these measures is trying to stem exclusion from work as a result of illness, injury or impairment. This process can be graphically illustrated as in Figure 1.

Figure 1

The main purpose of this wide range of initiatives and services both inside and outside the workplace lies in contributing to:
• access to,
• reintegration into
• retention of
employment by people with illness or disability.

The aim of such initiatives would be to:
• promote active rather than only administrative responses;
• develop awareness of the issue and an explicit ‘disability management’ focus;
• enhance coordination between services, and between services and the workplace;
• provide incentives for workers and employers to promote insertion and retention.
One of the main reasons why the concern about the ageing workforce has moved even higher on the European social policy agenda is its direct implication for employment, pensions, productivity and equal opportunities:
• From just another vulnerable group to core resource for mobilisation — these are key elements of economic and social strategy.
• From external phenomenon to integrated element in comprehensive EU policies, e.g. anti-discrimination policies and legislative efforts.
• From primary focus on tax/benefit structures to practices of age management in workplaces and labour markets.
This development has been going on for a fairly long period, some key steps having been:
• 1994 Essen Council conclusions first mentioned ‘older workers’ as a high risk group for exclusion from employment.
• EU Directive against discrimination in employment is being implemented, albeit slowly; there is also, as yet, relatively little experience in companies.
• Concerted EU-attempts, emphasising the joint role of companies and the social partners in fostering working conditions conducive to job retention in order to arrive at an approach that could be called ‘active ageing’ policy.
• Further, finance and other ministers in EU Member states have become aware of the implications for pensions and health care costs — and also for employment.

Jorma Karppinen: Director, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin.

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