New Europe-wide labour statistics have branded the growing number of contractors around the EU “atypical”.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have caused controversy among the nation’s contractors and sole traders.

Even though the data shows that independent and contract workers are growing in numbers across Europe, the report still brands those who choose to work for themselves as “atypical” within the labour market.

Temporary employment has risen across 19 European countries according to the report, but many contractors feel they have been seen as victims. ILO suggests that the rise in temporary employment is the result of uncertainty in the EU economy, as businesses that are worried about another slump in the near future become less willing to offer out permanent roles.

While this may be true of some workers in temporary positions, ILO stills fails to acknowledge self-employment as a legitimate lifestyle choice for a number of highly-skilled workers, some contractors have argued.

In addition, the data follows a number of other employment statistic methods in measuring part-time workers in the same category as temporary staff, despite the fact that there could be any number of differences between workers in each position.

Given the amount of time it devotes to the potential for social unrest as a consequence of high unemployment, it may be fair to suggest that the report is guilty of unfairly and inaccurately categorising low-skilled and highly-skilled contract workers as one and the same.

“This report appears to be focused on vulnerable workers – people who would prefer to be properly employed, with all the associated rights and protections,” says Simon McVicker, head of public affairs at Professional Contractors’ Group (PCG). He also went on to say that this was clearly not the case for a number of independent professional workers.

Even so, he noted, acknowledgement of the growth of freelance workers across the EU was welcome in itself.

Rather than focusing on the doom and gloom of youth and long-term unemployment, ILO should devote some attention to the opportunities being created by skills shortages around the EU, according to Professor Patricia Leighton.

Professor emeritus of employment law at the University of Glamorgan, Prof. Leighton notes that there are a million job vacancies across Europe which have not yet been filled because of a massive skills shortage within the Union. This is precisely the demand which a growing number of contractors is looking to fill, she says.

But even so, Prof. Leighton sees the figures as part of a long-established trend.

“Independent professionals are always defined in reference to something else, such as ‘non-employees’ or ‘non-standard’,” she points out. Not only is the description of “atypical” workers out of date and old-fashioned, Prof. Leighton notes, but it is hardly even statistically relevant - in some countries, temporary and contract workers are now the majority.

Of course, there are those who may argue that the difference between contractors and traditional employees is precisely what makes freelancing such an attractive concept, both for workers and businesses looking to capitalise on a wealth of varied experience. But for a number of self-employed professionals, the “atypical” label reflects broader, less positive attitudes towards contract workers.

By Victoria McDonnell

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