Social council makes progress on key issues

Progress has been made on key social and employment issues at a meeting of European ministers in Luxembourg. Delegates from the Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) met in June 2013. High on the agenda was the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. There were also talks on the Directive on electromagnetic fields, as well as the future of the European Global Adjustment Fund.

Background

The Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) met on 20 and 21 June 2013 in Luxembourg. The council meets around four times a year, and is composed of employment, social protection, consumer protection, health and equal opportunities ministers.

The Luxembourg meeting saw ministers make progress on a number of key issues. Agreement was reached on a general approach to the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. The agenda included the final adoption of the Directive on electromagnetic fields. Ministers also reached an agreement to continue the European Global Adjustment Fund (EGF) in the 2014–2020 period, and to allow the use of the EGF to help workers who have lost their jobs as a consequence of the economic crisis.

Pension rights talks

Ministers agreed at the meeting on a general approach on the Commission’s proposal for a Directive on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights.

Although the statutory pension rights of individuals working in another EU Member State are well protected, there has never been equivalent protection for occupational or ‘second tier’ pensions. This type of pension is becoming increasingly important. As a result, many individuals are losing out due to factors such as long-qualifying or vesting periods.

To improve mobility in the European Union, this directive requires Member States to implement minimum requirements for the acquisition and preservation of pension rights for individuals who go to work in another EU Member State. Although Member States retain responsibility for the regulation of changes of employment within their own country, it is expected that they will decide to apply the provisions of this directive to internal mobility in their own country.

The text will now be passed to the European Parliament for adoption.

Proposal on electromagnetic fields

Ministers finally adopted the proposal for a directive to update and improve EU rules to protect workers from electromagnetic fields in their workplace. This follows the agreement on the text that was reached between the Council and the European Parliament in March 2013 (EU1305011I).

The new directive will protect workers such as doctors and nurses giving patients magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. It will also protect people working with radar, welders and workers repairing power lines.

The directive will clarify the definitions of adverse effects on health, and introduce an updated exposure limits system for frequencies that are known to have harmful effects on the cardiovascular system or the central nervous system. It will also introduce a number of provisions to make it easier for employers to carry out the risk assessments required by law.

Member States will be required to implement the directive into national law by 1 July 2016.

Agreement reached on crisis fund

At the meeting, ministers also discussed a general approach to the Commission’s proposal for a Regulation on EGF. The EGF helps workers find alternative employment when they have lost their jobs due to globalisation trends, including restructuring. The funding contributes to activities such as developing new skills and competencies.

Ministers agreed to continue the operation of the EGF from 2014 to 2020. They also agreed to reinstate the fund’s crisis clause, which permits the EGF to be used to help workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the ongoing global financial and economic crisis.

Dealing with the ongoing effects and impact of the economic crisis is still of critical importance for EU policymakers and the EGF is seen as a major tool that can help achieve this aim.

Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor said:

The EGF is a key instrument to help redundant workers upgrade their skills and prepare for new job opportunities. The crisis is far from over and too many people are experiencing difficulties in finding a job, which is why it is also crucial that the EGF can be used to fend off the effects of current – or future – economic and financial crises.

The text will now be forwarded to the European Parliament for consideration.

Commentary

This council meeting made significant progress on the issues under discussion. Progress has been made in the regulation of supplementary pensions, an important factor for the increased mobility of workers around Europe. In the area of health and safety, the new Directive on electromagnetic fields has finally been adopted and will be transposed into national law by 2016. Finally, the EU is putting into place resources to try to deal with the impact of the crisis by permitting the EGF to carry on supporting those who have lost their jobs because of it.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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