Grigor Gradev scholarhip awarded for research on social protection in Central and Eastern Europe

The latest recipient of a major research prize funded by the ETUC and ITUC is a young scholar from Latvia who will investigate whether enforcement of social protection in Central and Eastern Europe has suffered from the fallout from the economic crisis. Ieva Bloma, a PhD student at the European University Institute in Florence, has been awarded the 2018 Grigor Gradev Scholarship and starts work this month on a project to map how compliance with working and safety conditions has been affected by austerity measures enacted in the wake of the crisis.

She will spend three months with the ETUI and ITUC and will present her research at the TURI conference in Berlin on 16-18 May. It will also be published as a Working Paper by the ETUI later this year.

The key starting point with the project will be understanding the gap between procedures that governments put in place to enforce standards at work, and the reality on the ground. Tough legislation is frequently undermined by lax enforcement and undermining of the regulatory bodies put in place to monitor compliance, and it is this that is often responsible for the erosion of standards. Labour inspectorates in many countries have been enfeebled in the name of preserving competitiveness. Ms Bloma’s own research has found that the budget of the Latvian inspectorate was slashed by 47% following the crisis at a time when there was already downward pressure on standards as companies wrestled with the effects of recession.

“A lot of research focuses on the formal legislation”, Ms Bloma says. “But my conviction is that the enforcement stage is where the real action takes place. You can adopt all the rules you want, but if you don’t attend to its implementation as well you’re left with an ‘empty shell’”.

Understanding how social legislation is actually put to work in protecting workers will help policy-makers who are concerned about the erosion of labour standards devise properly-functioning measures to tackle the problem. The research itself will consist of a comparative case study of several CEE countries – three Baltic States and the four Visegrad countries - and will be carried out through data analysis and interviews with trade unions and employers. Also included in the analysis will be an examination of Poland – one of the few European countries to avoid recession – in order to help gauge the extent to which the erosion of social standards is a direct result of the crisis or reflects other long-standing trends.

However, Ms Bloma points out that the effects of financial austerity on social protection have been widespread and it is not just a problem in CEE countries. “People don’t notice the effects immediately or directly when spending on enforcing social standards is cut. But they will feel the effects further down the line if their rights at work deteriorate.”

The Scholarship was set up in honour of Grigor Gradev, the former Director of the CITUB research institute, who died in 2016. The scholarship is awarded annually and is funded by the ETUC and ITUC with support from affiliates and Solidarity Support Organisations.

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