Are there optimal global configurations of labour market flexibility and security? : Tackling the "flexicurity" oxymoron
Miriam Abu Sharkh
“Flexicurity” denotes an optimal configuration of flexible labour legislation and secure social protection. But which combination of flexibility and security is advantageous, and for whom? Rather than staying within the confines of the often dichotomous “flexibility”-“rigidity” discourse, this paper outlines different configurations of employment protection laws (EPL), collective relation laws (CRL) and social protection around the millennium. Only the totality of legal statutes and loopholes mirrors the protection status of any given worker. In accord with this regime notion of socio-economic protection, these three continuous workers’ rights indices are used to typologize nation states globally employing cluster analyses. These clusters are scaled by their relative proximity and compared using both labour market and macroeconomic outcomes. Moving beyond misleading juxtapositions such as USA versus Europe, this analysis provides a richer understanding of diverse combinations of security and flexibility found across the world. To numerically and substantively stretch the discussion beyond its current confines rejects two common null-hypotheses and suggests a new synthesis: First, countries at the far end of the flexibility spectrum were not consistently the star performers measured by a variety of labour market and macroeconomic outcomes. This is true within the OECD and non-OECD groups as well as across this divide. The overall superiority of the most flexible country cluster within the OECD, the Anglo-Saxon Labour flex, versus all other models within the OECD, could not be confirmed. Rather, a certain group of European countries, the European Flexicurity cluster, does not perform significantly worse on employment performance or growth while maintaining significantly lower levels of inequality. The globally most flexible labour markets, the Low-Income Full-Flex, correlate with the worst results on almost all unemployment and poverty indicators. Assuming labour laws are endogenous to these outcomes, the high incidence of unemployment, poverty, inequality and grey work coupled with low growth questions the simple assumption that the absence of any legal protection for workers alone sparks prosperity.
labour flexibility / employment security / social security / developing countries / OECD countries
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