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Key note speech of ELA Management Board Chair, Mr Tom Bevers at ELA opening conference on 9 November 2021 in Bratislava

ELA Opening Conference featured many distinguished speakers. Read the complete speech of the Management Board Chair, Mr Tom Bevers.

Photo showing ELA annual conference room

I have the honour and pleasure to stand here today because it is proof that ELA has not only managed to roll out its activities, but was also able to move to its permanent home in Bratislava, Slovakia.

For me, this occasion is even more special: two years ago, I was elected Chair of ELA’s Management Board at its first Management Board meeting in Bratislava, in exactly this room. Much has happened since – and we certainly did not expect that it would take us two years to meet again in Bratislava.  Notwithstanding all the difficulties, ELA has indeed reached its home base now.  We could hardly be closer to the border that just slightly more than 30 years ago was part of the Iron Curtain that split this continent in two, and it should fill us with pride that we have come to this beautiful city, full of history, to discuss labour mobility on our continent as partners. 

The Management Board of ELA is entrusted with the task to provide strategic guidance to the European Labour Authority. The word strategic is of a crucial importance here: We are facing major trends, which are already today changing the world of work: we have heard about some of them in the first panel this morning, namely digitalisation, climate change, globalization, and demographic change.

Undoubtedly, the four mega trends will have varying impacts on different sectors and categories of workers. Tackling climate change will require new skills and some of them will have to be found across borders, but at the same time might influence citizens’ mobility due to increasing awareness of the carbon footprint.  Digitalization makes it easier to work from elsewhere in Europe or around the world for many jobs, thereby challenging institutions like the social protection of ‘virtually mobile workers’. Demographic change could require more workers in for example, care jobs that depend very much on a specific location, and therefore, this will affect the scale of the mobile workforce since younger workers might be more willing to move elsewhere for a job than older workers.  To design the appropriate interventions, we need to have adequate capacity to analyze those trends and predict their consequences.

This is even more pressing in light of the EU’s direction towards achieving a ‘just’ transition. Moreover, it is no secret that technological developments could make the compliance and enforcement of applicable working conditions more complex – let us think here of remote cross-border workers. We also know that the rules themselves can be called into question; probably now more than ever before. The current technological revolution has an impact on labour market relations, and on the notion of employer and employee, that is so much at the core of the laws we are working with.

The unprecedented pandemic has aggravated and accelerated some of these structural trends, compelling all of us – at European, national, and local level - to consider thoroughly not only the political interventions needed, but also the concrete operational measures that are required to ensure that labour mobility remains fair and effective.

Fair labour mobility is indeed encoded in ELA’s DNA, meaning that the Authority aims to operationally support Member States, social partners, employers and workers to capitalize on the opportunities, and face the challenges related to labour mobility in a changing world of work. To give a few examples, in its first 2 years of operation, ELA has used its capacity, even if it is still partly “under construction”, both from the information provision and the enforcement point of view, to adapt to this reality.  The Action Plan on seasonal workers has shown in a unique way how ELA can reply to actual trends in the labour market, involving its enforcement strand through cross-border inspections in the agricultural sector and its awareness-raising strand, by organising the Rights for all seasons campaign. The campaign, which also saw the involvement of EURES and the Platform tackling undeclared work, was not realized by ELA in isolation, but in cooperation with other EU institutions like EU-OSHA and numerous national stakeholders. This also highlights the Authority’s capacity to promote cooperation among administrations and labour market actors across the EU. The role of ELA’s National Liaison Officers, bringing ELA together with their national networks, proved to be beneficial in this context. Furthermore, as seen in the Rights for All Seasons campaign, the Authority could capitalize on the expertise and promotion potential of established structures at European level that were integrated into ELA, that is EURES and the Platform tackling undeclared work. We will continue these efforts, combined with national and other European interventions to pave the way to follow and adapt to changing labour markets when seeking to ensure fair working conditions for mobile workers.  

The first panel clearly indicated the directions that labour mobility may be headed to in the near future, and indeed, what kind of policy reforms may be expected and needed to address its changing landscape. ELA was mentioned as one of the key players, being a natural “hub” for addressing jointly the practical dimension of tomorrow’s fair labour mobility. This is exactly what I want ELA to be: a natural focal point that provides operational support for all stakeholders, particularly Member States and social partners, on issues related to labour mobility.

Next to the activities already started and mentioned before, notably in relation to awareness raising, information provision, and inspections, ELA will set up new activities, such as a mediation board - which will indeed have a challenging task – as will the Platform tackling undeclared work, as it is not hard to understand that many new jobs could indeed be hidden by the world wide, (and largely invisible) web.

However, there is another side to this as well. The materialising trends also bring about new opportunities to look for innovative solutions for fair labour mobility. New technologies, for instance on the basis of artificial intelligence, will bring new solutions for quicker cooperation, new information tools for workers and employers, and even help us to address very effectively new imbalances in the labour market, and help us, through EURES, to fill new job opportunities created by the changing world. 

ELA’s ability to analyse these trends and react quickly and in an agile way to them, using all available tools including information channels, inspections and cooperation, could bring a network effect to help all Member States to use synergies between the work done at the EU level and Member state level for the benefit of European citizens.  

ELA has not been created merely to defend what we achieved in the past, but to accompany the labour market that the EU is building for tomorrow.  In that sense, the pandemic could not have come at a better time for ELA. It has shown us from the very start that we live in a world with few certainties and many challenges, and that we need to be forward-looking, and at the same time, as agile as possible.  So I look forward to the discussion in the panel to inspire us in that work.

I have the honour and pleasure to stand here today because it is proof that ELA has not only managed to roll out its activities, but was also able to move to its permanent home in Bratislava, Slovakia.

For me, this occasion is even more special: two years ago, I was elected Chair of ELA’s Management Board at its first Management Board meeting in Bratislava, in exactly this room. Much has happened since – and we certainly did not expect that it would take us two years to meet again in Bratislava.  Notwithstanding all the difficulties, ELA has indeed reached its home base now.  We could hardly be closer to the border that just slightly more than 30 years ago was part of the Iron Curtain that split this continent in two, and it should fill us with pride that we have come to this beautiful city, full of history, to discuss labour mobility on our continent as partners. 

The Management Board of ELA is entrusted with the task to provide strategic guidance to the European Labour Authority. The word strategic is of a crucial importance here: We are facing major trends, which are already today changing the world of work: we have heard about some of them in the first panel this morning, namely digitalisation, climate change, globalization, and demographic change.

Undoubtedly, the four mega trends will have varying impacts on different sectors and categories of workers. Tackling climate change will require new skills and some of them will have to be found across borders, but at the same time might influence citizens’ mobility due to increasing awareness of the carbon footprint.  Digitalization makes it easier to work from elsewhere in Europe or around the world for many jobs, thereby challenging institutions like the social protection of ‘virtually mobile workers’. Demographic change could require more workers in for example, care jobs that depend very much on a specific location, and therefore, this will affect the scale of the mobile workforce since younger workers might be more willing to move elsewhere for a job than older workers.  To design the appropriate interventions, we need to have adequate capacity to analyze those trends and predict their consequences.

This is even more pressing in light of the EU’s direction towards achieving a ‘just’ transition. Moreover, it is no secret that technological developments could make the compliance and enforcement of applicable working conditions more complex – let us think here of remote cross-border workers. We also know that the rules themselves can be called into question; probably now more than ever before. The current technological revolution has an impact on labour market relations, and on the notion of employer and employee, that is so much at the core of the laws we are working with.

The unprecedented pandemic has aggravated and accelerated some of these structural trends, compelling all of us – at European, national, and local level - to consider thoroughly not only the political interventions needed, but also the concrete operational measures that are required to ensure that labour mobility remains fair and effective.

Fair labour mobility is indeed encoded in ELA’s DNA, meaning that the Authority aims to operationally support Member States, social partners, employers and workers to capitalize on the opportunities, and face the challenges related to labour mobility in a changing world of work. To give a few examples, in its first 2 years of operation, ELA has used its capacity, even if it is still partly “under construction”, both from the information provision and the enforcement point of view, to adapt to this reality.  The Action Plan on seasonal workers has shown in a unique way how ELA can reply to actual trends in the labour market, involving its enforcement strand through cross-border inspections in the agricultural sector and its awareness-raising strand, by organising the Rights for all seasons campaign. The campaign, which also saw the involvement of EURES and the Platform tackling undeclared work, was not realized by ELA in isolation, but in cooperation with other EU institutions like EU-OSHA and numerous national stakeholders. This also highlights the Authority’s capacity to promote cooperation among administrations and labour market actors across the EU. The role of ELA’s National Liaison Officers, bringing ELA together with their national networks, proved to be beneficial in this context. Furthermore, as seen in the Rights for All Seasons campaign, the Authority could capitalize on the expertise and promotion potential of established structures at European level that were integrated into ELA, that is EURES and the Platform tackling undeclared work. We will continue these efforts, combined with national and other European interventions to pave the way to follow and adapt to changing labour markets when seeking to ensure fair working conditions for mobile workers.  

The first panel clearly indicated the directions that labour mobility may be headed to in the near future, and indeed, what kind of policy reforms may be expected and needed to address its changing landscape. ELA was mentioned as one of the key players, being a natural “hub” for addressing jointly the practical dimension of tomorrow’s fair labour mobility. This is exactly what I want ELA to be: a natural focal point that provides operational support for all stakeholders, particularly Member States and social partners, on issues related to labour mobility.

Next to the activities already started and mentioned before, notably in relation to awareness raising, information provision, and inspections, ELA will set up new activities, such as a mediation board - which will indeed have a challenging task – as will the Platform tackling undeclared work, as it is not hard to understand that many new jobs could indeed be hidden by the world wide, (and largely invisible) web.

However, there is another side to this as well. The materialising trends also bring about new opportunities to look for innovative solutions for fair labour mobility. New technologies, for instance on the basis of artificial intelligence, will bring new solutions for quicker cooperation, new information tools for workers and employers, and even help us to address very effectively new imbalances in the labour market, and help us, through EURES, to fill new job opportunities created by the changing world. 

ELA’s ability to analyse these trends and react quickly and in an agile way to them, using all available tools including information channels, inspections and cooperation, could bring a network effect to help all Member States to use synergies between the work done at the EU level and Member state level for the benefit of European citizens.  

ELA has not been created merely to defend what we achieved in the past, but to accompany the labour market that the EU is building for tomorrow.  In that sense, the pandemic could not have come at a better time for ELA. It has shown us from the very start that we live in a world with few certainties and many challenges, and that we need to be forward-looking, and at the same time, as agile as possible.  So I look forward to the discussion in the panel to inspire us in that work.