Boosting Europe: Innovative work practices can make it happen!

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I am honoured to welcome you here at today's high level seminar in the "house of organised European civil society".

The EESC brings together representatives of employers, employees and other civil society interest groups – all key stakeholders when it comes to the topic that will be discussed today: innovative work practices. And Actually the Committee is the first and only EU institution taking this topic on the discussion on the EU level. 

The European labour market is facing major challenges. We need to tackle the persisting economic and social crisis, and at the same time we are facing a huge demographic challenge. We have an ageing workforce and the number of people in "employment age" will decrease in the years to come.

It is evident that growth is necessary to solve these issues. But growth is not a given in the present situation, not at all. And as a consequence is, of course, productivity. Higher productivity will lead to more growth. But the picture is slightly more complicated in a situation with high unemployment. By boosting the GDP, higher productivity provides for a bigger "cake" to distribute between the various groups of society. It is also an important issue when it comes to the persisting discussion of financing pensions.

Innovative work practices are a very interesting concept to boost productivity. Innovative work practices can be a way to increase productivity without extra costs. Our SOC section has cooperated with Eurofound very closely on this (and on many other topics), and has adopted an important opinion on this topic, and I am sure my colleague and president of the EESC Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship Leila Kurki will go further into details concerning what exactly the concept of innovative work practices entails and indeed the position of the EESC on the matter. Let me just point out that the EESC has expressed the view that innovative work practices is one of the key for the success of the Europe 2020 strategy.

Now, how can innovative work practices lead to improved productivity?

Employees who feel involved and motivated and experience a high "on the job satisfaction" are more productive. In other words: innovative work practices are a means of creating a win-win-win situation – for the employers, for the employees themselves and indeed for society as such.

Today's seminar fits very well into the work of the EESC under my presidency.

On 25 September 2012, the European Economic and Social Committee, on my initiative, held a major conference entitled Step up for a Stronger Europe.

One of the aims of this conference was to show that the European Economic and Social Committee is at the heart of the political agenda and has an important contribution to make to solving the problems Europe is presently facing.

We had a full day of debate with stakeholders from European institutions and organisations and the Member States, and concluded by drawing up a series of specific proposals, two of them being to promote confidence in a comprehensive and dynamic European growth model and to reach out to citizens and offer hope in the European project.

Allow me to say a few words on one of the biggest challenges Europe is facing today: unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment. Higher productivity involves a risk of less people being needed in the labour market. But this is not necessarily the case. Experience shows that high productivity do not exclude high employment: actually they can and should always be mutually reinforcing. I agree that it put some demands on tomorrow's labour market: there must be a constant focus on using non-standard tools to boost employment. One aspect in this context is non-formal education. It can play a very important role in relation to innovative workplaces – we all need to think and to learn to think more out of the box. The Committee has always called for more emphasis to be put on non-formal education, both in terms of making this type of education available but also when it comes to its formal recognition. Here, there is also a clear link between the economy and active citizenship.

And indeed, companies and civil society can make concrete, experience-based proposals and provide examples of best practice. The social partners obviously also projects in relation to innovative work practices. This is why the EESC sees itself at the centre of this debate.

I am sure that the results of the Eurofound study on Work Organisation and Innovation, which will be presented shortly, will give us all a better understanding of the opportunities linked to innovative work practices. And that they will trigger an inspiring debate.

I would like to thank both Eurofound and Leila Kurki for having taken the initiative to organise today's high level seminar. I know that innovative work practices is very close to Leila's heart and I also know that she is looking eagerly forward to the presentations and debate today.

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Staffan Nilsson`s opening address Boosting Europe conference