Over the past 10 years, the sugar sector has been particularly hit by a massive wave of restructurings leading to the closure of almost half of its factories and half of its workforce. Partly as a result of that process the current sugar workforce in Europe is particularly old in comparison with the rest of the Food and Drink industry and the economy as a whole. The sector also suffers from the handicap of being a highly technical sector located in rural areas, where there is generally a scarcity of qualified workers. Finally, the sugar sector also endures the difficulty –common to the rest of the Food and Drink industry- to attract young recruits.
As this study has shown, the EU sugar sector has raised above many of those challenges. Indeed there are multiple examples of age-specific or age-sensitive initiatives and policies in sugar companies to facilitate the adaptation and ensure the retention of senior workers and their knowledge (more on that in section 2 of this report). Succession planning and the timely transmission of knowledge also appear as aspects widely identified by sugar companies as key for the management of their workforce (Section 3) whereas multiple efforts are developed to attract young graduates and to train young local workers with no prior qualifications (Section 4).
Across the report there are numerous individual examples of sugar companies that provide useful ideas and good practice examples for companies in the sugar sector and beyond. We can mention for example the concept of ‘sequential retirement’ (allowing retired workers to come back to work for the time of the processing season) in Slovakia, the inter-generational and multi-disciplinary teams put in place in The Netherlands, the integration in a single process of succession planning, recruitment and transmission of knowledge in Spain and the development of a comprehensive program for workers aged 58+ covering aspects such as health, training, working time and retirement policies in Finland.
As the situation ahead will remain not less challenging for the sector with the end of sugar quotas in 2017, those efforts must be continued. Thus the social partners call for the sector to continue and consolidate the efforts it has put in place. They also call for national authorities to put in place regulatory frameworks that promote and support companies’ adaptation of workplaces and working conditions to older workers. National legal frameworks should also allow for gradual and flexible retirement practices to flourish as a way to keep senior workers for longer in the workforce while allowing them to keep their full rights to pensions and other social benefits. The EU can play an important role in promoting Member States initiatives in that regard.
For questions or remarks on this report please contact CEFS or EFFAT Secretariats at Oscar.Ruiz@cefs.org and E.Brentnall@effat.org. The report will be available online on the Social Partners’ common website www.Eurosugar.org and on their respective organisations’ websites.
CEFS and EFFAT would like to thank Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, for their support and comments in reviewing the final draft version of the report.