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Flexibility, but for whom? : A new approach to examining labour market flexibility across Europe using company level data

Chung, Heejung (2006): Flexibility, but for whom? : A new approach to examining labour market flexibility across Europe using company level data.

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Labour market flexibility continues to be one of the key issues in the reform of labour markets in welfare states. The way in which various countries adapt to this need differs according to their institutions and prevailing strategies. Despite the vast numbers of studies addressing this issue, labour market flexibility has been examined predominantly by concentrating on the arrangements that firms adopt to adjust to market fluctuations. Thus flexibility arrangements are perceived to exist only to facilitate employers’ or companies’ needs. However, flexibility in the labour market also enables individuals to accommodate various needs that occur throughout their life course and to facilitate one’s work-life balance. As companies adapt to business cycles with labour market flexibility, workers adapt to life cycles with it. Based on this definition, flexibility practices of companies can be measured two dimensionally, on one side its overall level and another to whom it is (more) geared towards, workers or the company. In addition, this study examines flexibility at the establishment level, in contrast to previous studies of flexibility which focus on the institutional/regulatory level or the individual behavioural level. The aims of this project are three-fold: firstly to examine the various practices of flexibility in companies to see if flexibility can indeed be partitioned as described above; secondly through aggregating company data to the country level, see whether there are cross-national variances in the degree and focus of flexibility practices; and lastly to investigate the relationship between the use of flexibility options for employers and those for employees. The data used to answer these questions is the European Survey of Working-Time and Work-life Balance, a survey based on the establishment level covering 21 EU member states for the year 2004/2005. The outcomes show that based on the practices of companies, flexibility can indeed be distinguished depending on whose flexibility it accommodates. Moreover, they show that countries where the average company has more flexibility arrangements for employers it provides more arrangements for employees as well, and there seems to be more variation in the provision of the latter than the former.

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