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Bart Cockx - Belgium labor market

Country labor market predictions: Bart Cockx on the Belgium labor market.

The challenge for the labor market in Belgium, I think, at the moment is, well we are actually in a booming phase so we don’t have really this issue of a recession, but despite that we are in a booming economy, we still have quite some important unemployment.

The unemployment rate I think is 6% in Belgium at the moment, but what is important to see is that there are large groups of individuals who are not at work. I think in particular groups of people with migration background and also the older workers, for whom we can really see big problems of employment.

So, the big challenge I think for Belgium will be to be able to cope with I’d say this labor reserve and to get them to work and the challenge is that there might be some reluctance from employers to hire workers with migration background and also older workers because there seems to be prior negative thoughts about hiring these workers.

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    So the issue is, what’s in the next year in the United States, what our problem is? The United States is at more than full employment. To me, the biggest labor market problem is not a next year problem but it’s a long term problem that we work more than anybody else in any other rich country.

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    Okay so, I’m from Britain, so the greatest labor market challenge facing my country is probably, a two-fold one actually.

    One, that everybody will expect me to say, which is Brexit, and boy is that true because we rely on international talent to remain globally competitive in Britain. We are still a small nation state, and it’s extremely important that we show that we’re open to business and can attract and retain the best talent in the world.

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    In France, we have a very high unemployment rate, about 9 per cent today, and this very high unemployment rate has been there for a very long time, for several decades.

    So, the big challenge is to have lower unemployment, to increase employment, and the way to do this is to improve wage formation, more flexible wages and also to improve recruitment by the firms, meaning to have more flexible labor contracts.

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    So the greatest challenge in Norway, or in, I know most about Norway, one often puts together the Scandinavian countries, seen from the outside of course they have a lot of similarities however, they are also quite different in some respects. So if I really look at Norway, and female employment, I guess your question’s also regarding female employment and women in the labor market, I would say a big challenge is really that the public sector is so large in Norway. So sixty per cent of women are working in the public sector.

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    But then in the private sector you can really make higher wages in some sectors specifically. So I think this was one sector, one big question, big challenge that Norway has to deal with.

    The other is incentives. The incentive to work. Of course working hours go down generally, which is a good thing, because in some countries still forty-two hours is a full time job, that’s difficult to combine with having a family. And at the same time we want to have high fertility, which is a huge challenge for many countries.

    Now, Norway is in the fortunate position that they still have quite high fertility, but it’s also below two. So I think that an incentive to invest effort, to invest in productivity that’s a big challenge. Also given that the wages are very high in Norway so the incentive to move to other countries, like for university graduates, I think is not as high as in other countries.

    But in globalised markets we would think this is very important that there is also a lot of mobility. But also of course in the country if you just look over careers, incentive to invest more, to increase wages over the career, are very important for the firms and for the individuals. So given the high welfare state cushions employees against a lot of risk, I believe this is a huge challenge also given the expenditure of course of the welfare state which are huge and we need tax income to finance the welfare state and sustain the welfare state.

    So the third challenge I think is really the expansion of the private sector, what industries Norway will go into now they have been living on the fish industry and the oil sector very well for many years but of course this will not go on, so it’s very important I think for Norway to invest in the education sector and develop new private sectors that can create the employment for the future.