The European Pillar of Social Rights was approved by all the EU’s member states in Gothenburg in November last year. It puts the social dimension back into the European debate and is the beginning of a process that must change people’s lives for the better. The hard work starts now and results need to be achieved urgently.
I see two reasons for this urgency. First, this is an opportunity to demonstrate to European citizens that the EU is serious about pursuing social progress. In the wake of austerity, public disillusionment has already contributed to the growth of extremism and xenophobia that threaten European solidarity.
Secondly, both the European Commission and European Parliament are approaching the end of their terms. After the elections in 2019, the EU will have new leaders with a new agenda. The procedures for implementing the social pillar must get underway at once if they are to be completed by then.
The current neoliberal narrative has led to unacceptable levels of unemployment, precariousness, poverty and social exclusion, has not effectively rescued our economies and has neither restored sound public budgets nor created more quality jobs.
Hence the need for an alternative strategy for sustainable and inclusive growth, giving social and workers’ rights the same level of importance as economic freedoms. As President Juncker said, we need a Europe that protects, and we need an economy that serves people’s interests and not profits.
Transparent and predictable working conditions
There are several very important measures at stake. In late 2017, the Commission published its proposals for a law on transparent and predictable working conditions, replacing the existing Written Statement Directive. Ways of working are changing rapidly, and I welcome moves to protect a larger number of workers and end unfair terms of employment, such as charging workers for their own job training or exclusive contracts that at the same time fail to guarantee paid hours of work. All workers, be they people in seasonal agricultural, domestic and temporary agency work, employed via online platforms in the gig economy or on flexible contracts, must have the right to a written statement of conditions and rights from the first day of employment.
But the Commission’s proposals fail to protect the most vulnerable workers on precarious and zero hour contracts. Declaring merely that they “will be able to request a more secure and predictable form of work, where available” does little to guarantee security or tackle abusive practices. We as trade unions will make every effort to convince the European Parliament and governments to address these problems. We also want to see greater protection for self-employed and freelance workers, together with a right to equal pay for equal work.
We hope that an ambitious deal can be found for the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive, ensuring full equal treatment, adequate remuneration and allowances and fair protection to all posted workers in Europe.
‘Social Fairness’ package
Such principles must underpin the ‘Social Fairness Package’ that the Commission plans to launch on 7 March, which is linked to the implementation of the Social Pillar. Equal treatment in the context of workers’ mobility, together with universal access to social protection systems for all workers, regardless of their employment status, must be enshrined in EU law.
Reforming welfare systems to make them fairer and more inclusive is a crucial aspect of the Social Pillar. The right to social protection and assistance for all is a fundamental principle of the European social model. The Commission’s plan to set up a European Labour Authority is also welcome. Properly implemented, it could ensure that employers comply with collective agreements and combat crossborder wage and social dumping, particularly in sectors such as construction or transport. Trade unions are pressing the Commission to set up a strong body with the power to enforce workers’ rights and labour standards, apply sanctions against dumping companies and strengthen social dialogue.
We hope that an ambitious deal can be found for the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive, ensuring full equal treatment, adequate remuneration and allowances and fair protection to all posted workers in Europe. We will press the Commission, the Parliament and particularly Member States to make sure it can be delivered before the spring.
Finally, the proposed measures to facilitate work-life balance will not only benefit workers and their families, they will also help to create a more sustainable and prosperous society. Reinforcing parents’ and carers’ leave and flexible working will help to reduce gender discrimination and make sure that women have the same access to work and the same rights as men. I urge all Member States to accelerate their deliberations so that these provisions can come into force as quickly as possible.
2018 will see trade unions pushing hard at both EU and national level to get these changes delivered on time. I have already lobbied several EU leaders in person and will continue to do so. We have fought for years for a stronger EU social dimension, embodied in the Social Pillar and we must seize this opportunity to transform the Pillar’s principles into reality through concrete initiatives, showing working people that it is possible to build a social Europe.