Let’s stop lowering EU’s labour standards | David Van Reybrouck

The European Commission has published a proposal for “new measures designed to support the employment of workers under contract in the EU”, which is the EU’s official invitation to the member states to contribute…

Let’s stop lowering EU’s labour standards | David Van Reybrouck

The European Commission has published a proposal for “new measures designed to support the employment of workers under contract in the EU”, which is the EU’s official invitation to the member states to contribute their own legislative proposals as part of the efforts for stronger labour and social rights protections for EU workers.

The proposal addresses the different labour conditions, social rights and working conditions of labour as well as the social security obligations of EU citizens. These standards are widely accepted in EU member states, but the processes that underpin them have not been sufficiently structured for them to be effectively applied and monitored. As such, certain elements of EU labour legislation are not the same across member states and inconsistent implementation affects the ability of EU workers to access benefits. The European Commission wants to foster a simplified and streamlined EU approach to the standards in order to reflect the EU-wide labour protection rules and ensure that legal standards are indeed “consistent” in the context of the United Nation’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

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The Commission introduced a Draft Proposal on “Nuisance to Workplace Workers” based on research and information provided by professional bodies, unions and employers, and on the experiences of workers at a range of countries. It aims to address issues like non-payment of wages, disciplinary issues, workplace hazards, pressure on the employee to carry out additional work beyond the workplace in which they are employed, social deduction or loss of benefits and insecurity.

Unsurprisingly, the proposals aim to empower the rights of workers by giving them recourse to remedy, enforceability and creating individual protection for workers in certain circumstances.

According to the 2010 ILO standard on labour related issues in Europe the EU is obliged to adopt a “systematic approach” to a range of labour relations related to compensation and pay, non-payment and unfair dismissal, while ensuring the protection of workers rights without being obstructive to production. The Commission does not seek to extend the EU’s minimum wage requirements to ensure decent working conditions.

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However, within the scope of this draft proposal the Commission aims to provide a more “efficient” approach to enforcing protection in accordance with regulations set by the European Parliament and Council, without creating costly administrative burdens.

Aside from these rather modest changes, the Commission’s proposal also aims to end social dumping of Europe’s low-skilled, unskilled and seasonal workers, particularly from former USSR countries, and help them to access the EU’s social protection schemes. An example of social dumping, as it is referred to in trade talks, can be seen in the case of Turkey. Turkey, a low-cost destination for migrant workers, has managed to implement some EU-level labour and social protections, including working time and vacation time, but this has not been matched with corresponding social protection schemes.

The Commission’s proposal is focused on strengthening EU labour rights in the context of the European social chapter.

A social chapter proposal could be interpreted as a political rather than a practical step, since the European Commission already has an expert group aiming to inform and assist national governments to consider the adoption of proposals based on the lessons learned in the preceding 10 years.

The social chapter definition of the European labour protection level “at the legal level of a person and within his capacity” is quite vague. It presents no guidelines on a number of important questions relating to the definition of the social regime within member states, allowing for flexibility in the application of the social chapter.

On 22 March European Council heads of state and government will be discussing the social chapter proposal and its implications for labour conditions. Germany’s insistence on maintaining the level of labour standards set in last year’s Juncker plan will depend on the Council’s view on the social chapter proposal. If the EC offers significant improvements the member states might prepare proposals for the social chapter reform in the next few years. If the proposals end up in bad shape, then it’s possible that there will be no further social chapter proposals.

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