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Moving Towards a Single Labour Contract: Pros, Cons and Mixed Feelings

  • Nicolas Lepage-Saucier
  • Juliette Schleich
  • Etienne Wasmer

This paper discusses the pros and cons of a single labour contract. After reviewing the current state of dualism in labour markets and the recent labour reforms in Europe, we discuss the various proposals to eliminate dualism. Next, we emphasise the costs of dualism and discuss whether they would be addressed by introducing a single labour contract. We notably introduce a distinction between reforms based on introducing a single contract with progressive seniority rights (CPSR) or a single contract with long probation periods (CLPP).We argue that their gains and costs are very different, especially with regards to the stigma effects and dualism. We also consider alternative reforms: the introduction of a single labour contract as such, and alternative reforms independent of the labour contract but addressing the issue of dualism (training, access to housing and to credit) and compare their costs and benefits. We then build a simple model where both temporary and permanent contracts are available to firms. We use it to describe the demand for temporary contracts and the potential consequences of removing them and reach the following conclusions. First, employment protection has a moderate negative impact on employment, which can be mitigated when temporary contracts are available. Second, the elimination of temporary contracts decreases total employment (by 7 percentage points according to our calculations). Offsetting this effect would require an ambitious reform of employment protection laws of permanent contracts (in this specific setup, amounting to a cut in layoff costs by two thirds). Finally, the coexistence of temporary and permanent contracts may also have negative effects on social norms within the firm and workers' motivation and eliminating temporary contracts could therefore enhance productivity in this context. We conclude that while there are costs to dualism, these are not as obvious and well established as the ones triggered by employment protection itself. Further, the single employment contract may partly be a qui pro quo (misunderstanding) Instead, more clarity on the objectives of a labour reform is needed. Vers un contrat unique, vraiment ? : Les avantages et les inconvénients Ce texte discute des avantages et des inconvénients du contrat de travail unique. Après une discussion du dualisme et des réformes récentes du marché du travail en Europe, nous décrivons les différentes propositions visant à éliminer le dualisme. Nous soulignons ensuite les coûts du dualisme et tentons de comprendre si la création d'un contrat unique les supprimerait. Nous introduisons notamment une distinction entre les réformes basées sur un contrat unique à droits progressifs (CUDP, ou CPSR pour l'acronyme anglais), ou sur un contrat avec une période d'essai allongée (CPEA ou CLPP pour l'acronyme en anglais). Les gains et les coûts sont très différents selon l'hypothèse retenue, en particulier par rapport aux effets de stigmatisation des travailleurs et par rapport à la persistence du dualisme. Nous envisageons aussi d'autres réformes: outre celle de l'introduction d'un contrat unique, nous discutons de différentes réformes indépendantes du contrat de travail mais modifiant les conséquences du dualisme du marché du travail (accès à la formation, au marché du crédit, au logement) et en comparons les coûts et avantages. Nous élaborons ensuite un simple modèle où les contrats permanents et temporaires sont tous deux à disposition des entreprises et coexistent en leur sein. Nous utilisons cette structure théorique pour décrire la demande de contrats temporaires et les conséquences potentielles d'en supprimer l'usage. Nous en concluons: premièrement, que la protection de l'emploi a un impact négatif mais modéré sur l'emploi total, qui est précisément atténué par l'existence de contrats temporaires; deuxièmement, que l'élimination des contrats temporaires diminue l'emploi total (de 7 points de pourcentage selon notre modèle); pour anihiler cet eet négatif, il faudrait une réforme radicale des contrats permanents (qui dans le cas d'espèce diminuerait des deux tiers les coûts des licenciements associés aux contrats permanents); enn, la coexistence de contrats temporaires et permanents peut aussi avoir des conséquences négatives au niveau des normes sociales au sein de l'entreprise et sur la motivation des salariés; éliminer les contrats temporaires serait alors une amélioration de la productivité des entreprises. Nous concluons sur le fait que si les coûts du dualisme sont réels, ils sont moins évidents et moins bien démontrés que ceux engendrés par la protection de l'emploi elle-même. De plus, le contrat unique pourrait être en partie un qui pro quo. Il serait au contraire utile de clarifier les objectifs fondamentaux des réformes du marché du travail.

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Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Economics Department Working Papers with number 1026.

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Date of creation: 21 Feb 2013
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Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:1026-en
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  16. Pierre Cahuc & Olivier Charlot & Franck Malherbet, 2014. "Explaining the Spread of Temporary Jobs and its Impact on Labor Turnover," 2014 Meeting Papers 906, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  17. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  18. Charlot, Olivier & Malherbet, Franck, 2013. "Education and employment protection," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(C), pages 3-23.
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