FRANCE: Job protections include generous vacation, pensions and maternity leave, and subsidized meals and transport. It is extremely difficult to fire anyone with a permanent contract, and layoffs can be blocked by courts. High youth unemployment prompted a new law that would make it easier to fire young workers to try to encourage hiring. The law has prompted protests and strikes.
BRITAIN: Most benefits are decided by the employer, not the state. Layoffs for economic reasons are common. Mass protests are rare, though anger over a pension dispute prompted public sector workers to stage a one-day strike Tuesday.
GERMANY: Workers enjoy several weeks of vacation and generous pensions, and most work weeks run less than 40 hours. The two ruling parties agreed last year to ease the regulation of the labor market to encourage firms to hire more staff, but the move has met wide opposition.
ITALY: Job security is playing a key role in the campaign for April 9-10 elections. The government introduced temporary work contracts in 2002 after protests forced them to water down deeper reforms. Italy has generous protections and high youth unemployment.
NORWAY: With a booming oil economy, Norway has just 3 percent unemployment. Norwegians have strong rights in the workplace, good unemployment and sick leave benefits, legislated time off, holidays and working hours.
BALTIC STATES: Labor laws in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia favor employers, who have few restrictions in hiring and firing. With many young people having moved to Britain, Ireland and Sweden since 2004, employers are offering health plans and career training to entice workers.
POLAND: It has the EU’s highest jobless rate, 18 percent. Its rigid labor laws — in part a legacy of communism — make firings difficult.
SWEDEN: Strong worker protections and generous welfare benefits are hallmarks of Sweden’s cherished social model. To fire a worker, an employer must show it is absolutely necessary because of cutbacks or the worker has severely failed to live up to expectations. It offers a minimum of five weeks paid vacation or the right to up to 480 days of paid parental leave.
See also the article by Angela Charlton: Labor reform called help to Europe’s ailing economy. In much of Europe, the idea that a company can dismiss workers just because profits are sagging is unacceptable, an affront to modern values. (Read more on the same page).