Professor Bernd Waas, labour law expert at Goethe University, heads the Frankfurt subproject of the Horizon 2020 collaborative project “Working, yet poor“.

The European research project “Working, Yet Poor“ (WorkYP) was recently awarded 3.2 million euros for three years by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The project will investigate the social and legal reasons behind the increasing number of EU citizens who are at risk of living below the poverty line despite being employed. Law Professor Bernd Waas from Goethe University is heading a subproject.

In 2017, almost 10 % of the EU’s working population was at risk of living in poverty, representing roughly 20.5 million EU citizens. In addition to negative individual consequences such as social isolation, and exclusion from participation, in-work poverty also jeopardises a fundamental feature of EU citizenship: the right to a life of basic human dignity. Before governmental action can be effectively taken, the sources of the problem have to be understood. The WorkYP Project will contribute to this understanding.

“Countries implement certain measures to prevent in-work poverty, but there is not a set approach towards reducing or eliminating it. EU Member States – individually and collectively – need a better understanding of the problem, an understanding supported by pertinent data and which allows them to monitor and successfully attack it,” says Luca Ratti, the WorkYP Project’s coordinator and Associate Professor of European and Comparative Labour Law at the University of Luxembourg.

The distribution of in-work poverty differs substantially across Europe, due to different social and legal systems or measures implemented to reduce poverty. For example, 13.4% of the working population were at risk of poverty in Luxembourg in 2018, compared to 5.2% in Belgium. The reasons for such differences have not been sufficiently investigated. Therefore, the WorkYP Project will analyse seven representative countries with different social and legal systems (Luxembourg. Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden) to document the problem and to propose best practice solutions to combat in-work poverty across all systems. “With this study, we intend to help EU Member States, and the EU as a whole, to better target their policies and regulatory action,” Ratti explains.

The WorkYP Project has identified specific groups of people that are at greater risk of in-work poverty, on which the analysis will focus. These include low wage workers; self-employed people; those with temporary or flexible employment contracts; and casual or “zero-hours” workers. Because women are more frequently employed in low-paid jobs or are more vulnerable to unequal working conditions, the household’s composition and income will be considered in the research.

Luca Ratti will lead a multinational and interdisciplinary research team comprised of researchers from eight European universities (Frankfurt, Bologna, Leuven, Rotterdam, Tilburg, Gdansk and Lund) as well as three social rights institutions active in Europe.

Goethe University will have a key role in this project. It will assume project leadership for the part of the project dedicated to consideration of employees with atypical work contracts. It will furthermore coordinate the work of the experts in the comparative analysis of the various models for combatting poverty at the workplace, and the system for guaranteeing a minimum living standard and a minimum catalogue of social rights. Overall, 320,000 euros in project funds will go to Goethe University. Professor Waas, who already heads the European Commission’s labour law expert network, and also coordinates the project on the restatement of labour law in Europe, is pleased with his new task. “The days will be a bit longer, but it will be worth it,” he says. “In particular with regard to the rapid digitalisation of the workplace and the emergence of completely new forms of work, numerous problems have come about that are in urgent need of answers.”

“I am happy that Goethe University is involved in such an important European research project. Decent working and living conditions in all countries of the Community are of critical significance for Europe’s future,” says Professor Simone Fulda, who as Goethe University Vice President is in charge of research.

Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation launched in 2014, funds collaborative projects in research and innovation. Research organisations, universities, and companies are all eligible to participate. Horizon 2020 funds 6,000 projects each year and Luxembourg entities have already received approximately 40 million euros for more than 120 projects.