Employment data and workers’ rights: is Portugal setting an example for the rest of Europe?

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Europe has been shocked by the Covid-19 pandemic. Restrictions, lockdowns and uncertainty resulted in massive job losses across the continent.

But as the world learns to live with the virus, newfound confidence in employers has led to an increased demand for workers – and employment data is on the up.

In this article, we’re looking into Europe and Portugal’s employment figures and how the latter is changing the perspective on workers’ rights.


Strong EU employment data

The European Union has faced some tough realities in recent weeks. The value of the euro has struggled against its major rivals, and outbreaks of Covid-19 across the continent have put many nations back under lockdown restrictions.

But not all news from the EU is dampening the mood. Recent employment figures for the EU and eurozone have bettered expectations and instilled some positivity in its continued economic recovery.

September’s data for unemployment shows the eurozone (made up of 19 EU countries using the euro as their currency) has recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Currently, unemployment is at 7.4% – a strong improvement from the 8.6% in September 2020. It’s also showing a continued reduction, coming in 0.1% lower than data from the previous month.

We haven’t seen the eurozone’s unemployment level this low since December 2019. It means a total of 2m fewer Europeans were looking for work in September than in the same month last year.

The jobless rate does vary from country to country. In Spain, the unemployment rate is at 14.6%. In Portugal, it is 6.4%. And in Germany and the Netherlands, it’s around 3%. Regardless of varying performance, all nations have improved over the past few months.


Furlough fears

Undoubtedly, falling unemployment levels are a massive boost to the EU’s economic growth. However, there were some question marks surrounding the validity of these figures as a means of measuring the labour market condition.

Mainly, the disputes related to government schemes such as furlough clouding the true state of the employment situation. But statistics from Germany and Spain have shown an unemployment improvement despite many people no longer receiving financial assistance from the government.

In Germany, there are currently 600,000 people receiving support from the furlough scheme. This is down from 6m in April 2020. Similarly in Spain, there are fewer than 200,000 people on furlough– compared to 3.6m in spring last year.

Yet, both of these countries saw unemployment levels drop to pre-pandemic levels in September. A positive sign of the EU labour market’s condition.


Economic growth making a comeback

Europe’s unemployment data isn’t the only aspect of its economy getting people excited. To further the remarkable jobs figures, both the EU and eurozone have seen their economic output take a turn for the better.

Reports from Europe unveiled GDP growth of over 2% between Q2 and Q3 of 2021 for both the EU and eurozone. Additionally, the pair reportedly grew by 3.7% and 3.9% respectively in Q3 of 2021 compared to the same quarter last year.


Portugal’s impressive post-pandemic performance

As a collective, Europe is unquestionably on the right path to post-pandemic economic recovery. But nations have performed differently across the continent.

For example, the UK (although not part of the EU, remains in the European picture) is currently at an employment rate of 75.3%. While the nation has recovered well and seems to have dodged the potentially devastating post-furlough bullet, this figure remains lower than the 76.6% recorded in February 2020. Short of its pre-pandemic level.

Alternatively, Portugal’s employment rate is currently at 56.1%. Although this may seem low in comparison to the UK, it is the highest employment level the country has seen for a decade, let alone before the pandemic.

Portugal has put an emphasis on employment in recent years. Its focus has been to increase the number of people in work and enhance the quality of their working lives. We’ve already seen the employment level climb to astonishing heights, but we may now be witnessing a shift in attention to life in work for Portuguese employees.


Portugal workers and their “right to rest”

A new law from the Portuguese government – popularly dubbed the “right to rest” – has been approved to protect the family and home lives of Portuguese workers. Under the new rules, it will be illegal for companies to contact their employees outside of working hours.

It is seen by many as a good way of improving the work-life balance of employees as home working becomes the norm. If employers were to contact workers outside of their allotted hours, it would be seen as a breach of labour law.

The rights of employees working from home is clearly in the limelight. The law restricts how companies are allowed to monitor their home workers and must have valid reasons if they were to refuse home working.

Also, employers are under new obligations to match the additional costs that come with working from home. This includes energy, internet upgrades, communications and equipment maintenance.

With employment data at decade-highs and new laws protecting its workforce, Portugal is starting to set the post-pandemic example to the rest of Europe.

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