The Times Discovers Temps in Europe

The New York Times had an interesting article about the growth of part-time and temporary employment in Europe. It notes that in several European countries, 20-30 percent of the workforce is employed either part-time, or on temporary employment contracts, or both.

It is good to see this piece, because part-time and temporary employment has been an important part of many European economies for close to two decades. As the article notes, these workers tend to enjoy far less employment protection than do full-time workers.

Of course, the article is somewhat misleading in implying that these workers enjoy no protection. The extent to which employment protection extends to part-time and temporary workers varies substantially across countries, but in most countries, part-time and temporary workers enjoy more legal protection than do full-time workers in the United States, who generally can be fired without cause at any time. Part-timers and temps in Europe also generally have health care coverage and other benefits like paid vacations that part-timers and temps in the United States rarely receive.

But the basic point is absolutely correct, part-timers and temps offer employers more flexibility than permanent full-time employees. Given the choice, employers will opt for more flexibility. The extent to which this increased flexibility has led to lower unemployment and more growth is questionable (the OECD research on this issue has not produced strong evidence), but it is an important feature of economic life in Europe, and it is good to see that the Times has discovered it.

--Dean Baker

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