A worker is lent out little, a lot, a great deal…

In addition, to progress along the path to an EA, the Liège team was also inspired by a Danish model over whose famous golden triangle much ink has been spilled. It combines three fundamental elements: the facility of business companies to hire and fire, the compensation of a higher income in the case of unemployment and an active labour market policy centred on reconversion and continuous education. This ‘flexicurity’, as it is known, has been presented as the spearhead of a European strategy against globalisation. But it would have to pass through the reform of the labour market of every one of the Union’s countries: it includes, amongst other things, greater facilities to carry out dismissals, counterbalanced by an increase in the safety nets in the case of being made redundant.

‘As we know, in recent years Belgium has not become a ‘flexicurity’ country. But this model took a century to become established in Denmark and twenty years in the Netherlands, where the mentalities and the social model are very different to ours. Nonetheless we felt that this model embraced interesting ideas and that here as well a new compromise between flexibility and security could be useful to the actors on the ground, which consist of the employers, the unions, human resources managers and the workers. Not to mention the territories, the local sectors, the industrial basins, etc. As an Action-Research Centre, we thus decided to take part in the emergence of new forms of social regulation. The EA is one of the formulae which can allow this,’ points out Virginie Xhauflair.

The Liège adventure (and its failures) 

Thanks to a budget from the European Social Fund, a collaborative pilot-project around new forms of employment between Liège logistics companies could thus be launched. It included the FOREM (public employment services) as well as the training centres and the unions. In the wake of the announcement of the closing of ARCELOR ’s ‘hot phase’ production, the premise consisted of trying to reconvert the jobs lost in the steel industry into logistics. Much like, earlier in the north of Holland, a flex-pool enabled workers undergoing reconversion to be divided amongst companies in need of a labour force.

‘We wanted to combine the flexibility necessary to logistics companies with the reconversion of workers who, thanks to the pooling, were able to keep a full time job,’ specifies Virginie Xhauflair. ‘Unfortunately, the logistics sector makes use of many untypical time schedules, numerous temporary contracts and very large flexibility. Despite the commitment of local stakeholders, our project, very or too ambitious, failed. We thus realized that we had to rather recentre on projects of a lesser scale, with significant work beforehand on the needs of business companies.’

In more orienting research towards a partnership of complementary businesses, and thanks to the involvement of the Liège Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which became a decisive actor in the project, the Job’Ardent EA finally saw the light of day (there already existed an agrofood EA in Brussels, JobIris). At the beginning only 5 businesses launched themselves into the adventure. They shared, all in all…one employee: a computer graphics designer. ‘The more companies are involved the more the risks are shared out. Should there be a problem with a worker in one company, it is also easier to find him or her a job elsewhere. A high number of businesses also enables the administrator to make economies of scale,’ adds Virginie Xhauflair.

The bonus-malus of EAs

Currently, Job'Ardent, managed by the Liège Chamber of Commerce, resembles a skills sharing centre, and it tends to attract small and medium enterprises. ‘For a great many of them it is difficult to manage growth: the EA allows them to make use of, with others, expertise and skills, if they open up a little to the concept of a partnership,’ argues Virginie Xhauflair. A not for profit company, the ‘Centre de Ressources sur les Groupements d’Entreprise en Wallonie,’ hopes that upcoming regional funding will  allow Job’Ardent to expand even more and enable new EAs to be created.

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