Race to the bottom: Europe’s precariat

Selection of European Newspapers covering Investigative Europe's research on labour - credit: Christian T. Joergensen

Labour contracts without health and social insurance. Involuntary part-time. Fixed-term and agency jobs. Across the continent, millions of Europeans must deal with insecure and low-paid employment, though the economy, overall, is doing better than at any point in the last decade.

In the euro zone alone, more than five and a half million people found new jobs since the end of 2012. But four out of five are part-time or fixed-term and largely low-paid, according to Eurostat.

The majority of those affected want something else, namely permanent, full-time positions, the European Commission notes in its latest report on the EU labour market.

Europe’s job boom is mostly of “low quality”, concludes Merrill Lynch, the wealth management division of Bank of America. This is bad news for most.

“All these uncertain forms of work are extremely expensive for both the affected and the society,” warns Olivier Blanchard, until 2015 the long-serving chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.

But why has the “precarisation of labour”, as sociologists call it, reached this scale? And what must be done to stop it?

Investigate Europe has begun researching these questions all across Europe. The findings are sobering. In attempting to (de)regulate labour markets,

  • European governments and the EU Commission are following assumptions and theories that have proved to be false and unrealistic;
  • Commissioners and governments have systematically weakened or abolished collective bargaining agreements and marginalised trade unions, thereby promoting inequality and precariousness;
  • Free movement of workers and services has led to new East-West conflicts in Europe. While labour crime goes mostly unpunished, individuals are left to deal with consequences of social dumping – fuelling anti-migrant sentiments;
  • EU countries are threatened by a race to the bottom in wages and labour rights. This makes it more difficult to find national solutions and calls for European responses.

In the past weeks, Investigate Europe has been publishing a series of cross-border exposés, analysis and reports in up to 13 European countries and 20 media partners, illustrating the brutal consequences of these politics, telling the stories of those affected, and searching for ways out of this EU-wide workers’ trap.

Read the first installments of the series:

The deregulation myth – how precarisation of labour has been deliberately engineered, published in GERMAN via Der Tagesspiegel (free).

A version of this story is also available in ENGLISH: Precarious work: Europe’s new reserve army.

Norway: a manual on how to fight against precarious jobs, published in ITALIAN via Il Fatto Quotidiano (free).

The myth of labour flexibility published in GERMAN by Austrian Falter  (paid content).

The Gig economy created a new class of precarious workers – now they start to fight back published in GERMAN via Der Tagesspiegel (free).

His boss is an app: The sharing economy is creating a new group of precarious workers. Some of them are beginning to defend themselves published in NORWEGIAN by Aftenbladet (paywall).

Is deregulation a threat to development? published in SWEDISH by Dagens Arbete (free).

Ukrainian workers save Poland’s labour market from collapse – but this doesn’t fit with PiS’ political spin published in POLISH via Newsweek Polska (free).

Stay in or out of the European Economic Area? — This is the question at work published in NORWEGIAN via Aftenbladet (paid content).

The recipe that did not work: Uncertain work makes for insecure life published in NORWEGIAN via Aftenbladet (paid content).

Governments in Eastern and Western Europe fight about child benefits in a cold war published in NORWEGIAN via Aftenbladet (paid content) and in DANISH via Ugebrevet A4 (free).

Labor crime is almost risk free. But now Oslo Municipality is fighting against social dumping published in NORWEGIAN via Aftenbladet (paid content).

Young Greeks turn their backs to a dead labor market and miserable working conditions. Germany is calling. Published in NORWEGIAN via Aftenbladet (paid content).

Macron advisor says French labour reform will restore inequalites against workers. Published in GREEK via Efimerida ton Syntakton (free).

The Country of Silent Tears: Economic migrant families from Romania have paid for decent earnings with anxiety and tears of the nation’s children. Published

in NORWEGIAN by Aftenbladet (paid content) and

in ENGLISH by The Black Sea (Romania/ Free / Title: “Where have all the mothers gone?”) and

in GERMAN by Die Tageszeitung (free)

Four out of five jobs in the EU are precarious jobs. Published in DANISH via Ugebrevet A4 (free).

Deregulation caused poor jobs instead of a booming economy. Published in SLOVENIAN via Pod crto (free).

After ten years of reform Europe suffers from growing precariousness. Published in ITALIAN by Il Fatto Quotidiano (free).

How precariousness made the EU change its speech on labour. Published

in PORTUGUESE by Público (free) and

in SPANISH by Infolibre (free).

How Romania sold its workers to foreign investors for IMF and EU cash. Published

in ENGLISH by The Black Sea (free)

in ENGLISH by EUObserver (free)

in GERMAN by Der Freitag (free)

How the french cement manufacturer Lafarge asked for and obtained the dismantling of labour law in Greece. Published in FRENCH via Basta!  magazine (free).

Social hold-up: How labour law was dismantled in Europe, at no benefit for labour or for people. Published in FRENCH via Basta!  magazine (free).



Interview with the Italian minister of finance, Pier Carlo Padoan, by Maria Maggiore and Nikolas Leontopoulos, published in GREECE via Efimerida ton Syntakton (free) and in GERMAN via Der Tagesspiegel (free).

Interview with Tomasz Misiak, co-owner of one of Poland’s biggest temporary work agencies, by Voytek Ciesla, published in POLISH (free) via Newsweek Polska.

More to come….

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