Archive for 11 febrero 2013

I am reading a lot about ageing in the work place. It is such a hot issue that they have come out with a name for those people: “goldenworkers”. It seems like no matter how you look at it, society needs older people to be more productive. From a demographic perspective, the ageing of the population implies that a bigger number of older people will be living alone.  From the economic point of view, the working population will have to support a continuously growing number of retired pensioners, at the same time as non-communicable diseases are on the rise as the population becomes older; both issues straining the national budgets. As for the labour market, we will be faced with the paradox of a short supply of skilled workers, as these retire, coupled with unemployment among those entering the labour market without the necessary qualifications. And finally, but by no means less important, there is a lack of appropriate flexibility in the legal labour framework. Could the situation be bleaker?

Fortunately, so-called reforms are taking place in Europe prompted by the economic crisis. However, is it really a reform when something is based solely on forcing later retirement together with a smaller pension scheme? I dare say it is a less sanguine boutade than the one from the Japanese Minister recommending that older people die quickly, but a boutade nevertheless.

For my instruction I am reading a 40-year-old book by E. F. Schumacher, “Small Is Beautiful”.  At the very beginning of the book (page 9) it states that “people [should] have a chance to enjoy themselves while they are working, instead of working solely for their pay packet.” That, I believe, would be the basis for a real labour reform but is that what we are aiming for?

If we were, our policy makers would be interested in people’s well being and not only in balancing the budget come hell or high water. If well-being were their objective, they would focus on reforming the labour market so that “enjoyment” could be included in every worker´s life. Is this a naive objective? I don´t think so. Policy makers should pay more attention to promoting more flexible working conditions, thus making the working environment more enjoyable. By flexibility I mean promoting part-time jobs, tele-working, flexible retirement age, re-training, etc. In short, putting people at the centre of the labour reform.

I don´t consider those changes farfetched and impossible to carry out. They are not revolutionary but rather structural changes. They would mean that working conditions could be adapted to fit the needs of the worker and the employer. This would make work more enjoyable, distancing it from the admonition that “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19). The objective of policies directed at supporting occupation for everybody in general, and older adults in particular, should be the promotion of a more pleasant working environment. Only then will people be willing to remain socially productive as long as their health allows.


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