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Infowork Final Conference
Working for Europe?
Brussels 31 March 2004

Centre Borchette, Rue Froissard, 36, 1000 Brussels

Results and policy implications from socio-economic research on work and employment from the fourth and fifth framework programmes

According to the Lisbon Declaration, the European Union aims to be the most competitive economy in the world, combining 'sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion'. This stress on social cohesion is distinctively European: the term 'social cohesion' hardly exists in American English! The European social model seems to involve not only some form of welfare state, but also the economic citizenship of workplace rights. At the same time however, it is widely believed that economic growth depends on greater flexibility of employment, often related to the more effective deployment of information and communication technologies. Are these two sets of aims compatible? Does employment flexibility undermine social cohesion? Is a more 'flexible' Europe in danger of undermining some of its unique competitive strengths in the social cohesion and commitment of its workplaces?

Within the fourth and fifth framework programmes a number of research projects studied the transformation of work organisation and the labour market. Over the last two years researchers from these projects have formed the cluster 'Infowork' to explore the implications of their work. This conference brings together their findings. It examines whether the European Social Model is threatened by new forms of work organisation, and begins to identify paths towards a distinctively European employment strategy.

Format of conference
The 'Infowork' cluster concentrated on three main themes:

  • Organisational and technical change : The central issue here is the growth of employment flexibility, the extent to which it derives solely from employer initiatives and the extent to which flexibility is also beneficial to employees. Is insecurity facilitated by technological change and the reconceptualisation of the firm in terms of 'shareholder value'? Have such changes fatally undermined the workplace collectivity as the traditional basis of the European Social Model, and do they require alternative conceptions of economic citizenship?
  • Trust and knowledge at work : It is frequently assumed that innovation requires a workforce which is committed, skilled, and above all able to continually develop its knowledge. Enterprises recognise these imperatives through human resource management strategies of empowerment and by the development of knowledge management. However, does generalised insecurity in employment simultaneously undermine trust and knowledge in the workplace?
  • Work and social well-being : New forms of employment place new demands on workers. Increased customer orientation may bring new forms of job satisfaction, but also new forms of stress. Do new working hours make it easier to reconcile work with family and other obligations? Do forms of working time undermine the traditional rigid division between work and non-work, fundamentally affecting domestic life, social involvement and even the personality itself?

Each session begins with a brief presentation of a policy paper prepared by the 'Infowork' co-ordinating group itself. There is then a major presentation of research results from one participating research team. This is followed by a contribution from an invited policy maker or practitioner, a general discussion, and a conclusion. The final session is a panel discussion, exploring the implications of the research for the European Social Model, involving researchers, policy makers and the social partners.

Participants
There will be 80 invited participants, comprising policy-makers from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the social partners, as well as relevant media specialists. There will be participation by researchers from the research projects which formed the Infowork cluster, researchers from other EU-funded projects relevant to the cluster theme and other researchers in the field.

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