EU level: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017

Issues related to the European Commission’s proposal on the European Pillar of Social Rights, as well as some developments in social dialogue at EU level, are the main topics of interest in this article. This update reports on the latest developments in working life at EU level in the first quarter of 2017.

Social dialogue

The EU social partners signed their framework agreement on how to enhance existing policies on active ageing and an intergenerational approach (PDF) and presented it to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during the EU tripartite spring social summit on 8 March. The social partners involved were:

  • Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope)
  • European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME)
  • European Centre of Employers and Enterprises (CEEP)
  • European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

The agreement, an autonomous initiative, is part of the social partners’ fifth multiannual work programme for 2015–2017 on partnership for inclusive growth and employment (PDF). It aims to build on the existing measures in place to support active ageing and the intergenerational approach in different contexts across Europe. Its provisions include:

  • increasing the awareness and understanding of employers, workers and their representatives regarding the challenges and opportunities posed by demographic change
  • providing employers, workers and their representatives at all levels with practical approaches to effectively promote and manage active ageing
  • ensuring and maintaining a healthy, safe and productive working environment
  • fostering innovative life-cycle approaches with productive, good-quality jobs to enable people to remain in work until their legal retirement age
  • facilitating exchange, cooperation and concrete actions to transfer knowledge and experience between generations at the workplace.

The agreement also outlines the measures to be taken into account by social partners and/or human resources managers in the context of national demographic and labour market realities, and according to national practices specific to management and labour. These measures aim at supporting:

  • health and safety at the workplace
  • skills and competence management
  • work organisation for healthy and productive working lives
  • intergenerational solidarity.

Proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights

On 26 April, the European Commission presented its latest major initiative on employment and social affairs. The European Pillar of Social Rights (PDF) is aimed at strengthening the employment and social aspects of the European Monetary Union (EMU), as stated in the Five Presidents’ 2015 report Completing Europe’s economic and monetary union (PDF)

The Pillar is presented under two legal forms with identical content: as a Commission recommendation (PDF) from the day of publication, and as a proposal for a joint proclamation (PDF) by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. On this basis, the Commission will now begin discussions with the European Parliament and the Council to work towards broad political support and high-level endorsement of the Pillar.

The principles and rights enshrined in the Pillar (PDF) are structured around three categories:

  • equal opportunities and access to the labour market
  • fair working conditions
  • social protection and inclusion.

The outline taps into several discussions – old and new – on inequality, sustainability, social investment and social justice. These also show the link between the principles of the Pillar, the broader economic context, and aspects related to productivity, growth and stabilisation. In addition, some of its parts fall within other major current, or forthcoming, activities of the European Commission on skills and on work–life balance.

There are several further concrete legislative and non-legislative initiatives such as the package on work–life balance of parents and carers, the Written Statement Directive, access to social protection, working time, an implementation report on the recommendation on active inclusion, and an implementation report on the Investing in Children Recommendation. These individual proposals are set out in more detail below.

A social scoreboard is also established to track trends and performances across EU countries in 12 areas and to assess progress towards a social ‘triple A’ rating for the EU as a whole. This analysis will feed into the coordination of the European Semester of economic policy.

The European Commission also presented a reflection paper on Europe’s social dimension. This is a separate document that forms part of the work on Juncker’s White Book on the future of Europe.

The Pillar should serve to restart the process of convergence within the EMU, and some of the principles and rights could act as guidance for more binding standards for the euro zone. Further EU legislative or non-legislative initiatives may follow as part of the Commission’s annual work programmes.

The European Semester remains the most important way of closely monitoring developments at EU and Member State level and promoting the targeted reforms according to national specificities covering the wide span of the Pillar. European funds, particularly the European Social Fund, will also provide financial support to implement many key aspects of the Pillar.

Concrete legislative and non-legislative initiatives

There will be a first phase consultation of social partners on access to social protection (PDF) to request their views on how the EU could address the challenges of access to social protection and related employment services for workers in non-standard employment. There is also a voluntary consultation with the social partners to share their views on people in self-employment.

There will also be a first phase consultation of social partners on the possibility of revising the Written Statement Directive (91/533/EEC) (PDF). The aim is to open a debate on clarifying the scope of application of the directive and to define core labour standards for all workers to reinforce convergence towards better performance.

Both these consultations will take place between April and June 2017, with a second stage consultation if necessary.

A report on the initiative to support work–life balance for working parents and carers (PDF) contains complementary legal and policy measures, with the Commission’s proposal for a directive on work–life balance (PDF) providing more details. The specific objectives of the proposed directive are to:

  • improve access to work–life balance arrangements, such as leave and flexible working arrangements
  • increase men’s take-up of family-related leave and flexible working arrangements.

As regards the 2010 Parental Leave Directive, the proposal aims at repealing the entire act and replacing it with the provisions contained in its text while preserving the existing rights and obligations. The main proposed changes are summarised here.

  • Article 4 – Paternity leave: 10-day paternity leave paid at the same level as the sick pay minimum will be introduced.
  • Article 5 – Parental leave: A parent’s right to take paid leave will be extended from the current minimum of four months until the child reaches the age of 8 to the new age of 12. This article sets out the principle that this leave should be paid at the sick pay minimum level (the current 2010 directive does not address the question of remuneration). Each parent is guaranteed a minimum of four months leave for this which cannot be transferred between parents. This is to encourage fathers to take leave as, if it is not taken, the money is lost.
  • Article 6 – Carers’ leave: carers of dependent or ill parents will get five days’ leave per year paid at the sick pay minimum level.
  • Article 7 – Time off from work on grounds of force majeure.
  • Article 8 – Adequate income: this provision establishes the right for workers making use of the different types of leave to receive an adequate allowance during the minimum period of leave set out in the directive. The level of the allowance should be at least equivalent to the level of sick pay.
  • Article 9 – Right to request flexible working arrangements: parents of children aged 12 and over will be able to request the right to work remotely in addition to their current right to request different working times and working hours arrangements. Carers with dependent relatives will also be able to benefit from the working hours and place of work changes.
  • Article 10 – Employment rights: this includes the right to return to the same job or, if that is not possible, to an equivalent or similar job, the right to maintain rights acquired or in the process of being acquired by the worker on the date on which parental leave starts. It also encourages workers and employers to maintain contact during the leave and to make arrangements for any appropriate reintegration measures.
  • Article 12 – Protection from dismissal and burden of proof.
  • Article 20 – Transposition: this provision establishes a maximum period of two years that Member States have to transpose the directive into national law and communicate the relevant texts to the Commission. Moreover, it highlights that, under Article 153(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Member States may entrust the social partners with the implementation of the directive, when social partners ask to do so, and as long as the Member States take all steps necessary to ensure that they can guarantee the directive’s aims.
  • Recital 30 – This takes account of the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and seeks to make sure that they are not disproportionately affected.

The Commission issued a statement alongside its proposal for the work–life balance directive explaining the process and its background (PDF).

On working time, the Commission presented two documents: an Interpretative communication (PDF) and the Implementation report (PDF) (as set out in Article 24 of the Working Time Directive). The first aims to increase legal certainty and clarity, while the second analyses the progress made in transposing the directive. The Commission proposes to keep the directive unchanged while ensuring both its legal clarity and application.

The interpretative communication brings together in a single document the provisions of the directive and the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that interpreted them. It also includes the Commission’s own interpretation. The communication clarifies the directive’s provisions (for example, personal scope, definition of working time/on-call time, timing of compensatory rest and paid annual leave) and the derogations permitted. The communication is not binding and is not aimed at creating new rules.

The implementation report reviews how Member States have implemented the Working Time Directive and highlights key issues and problems. It concludes that the compliance of the legislation of individual countries with the directive’s requirements is improving.

Commentary

The Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are working towards reaching broad political support for, and high-level endorsement of, the European Pillar. In addition, the Commission’s reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe will be followed by a series of reflection papers on:

  • harnessing globalisation
  • deepening the Economic and Monetary Union
  • the future of Europe’s defence
  • the future of EU finances.

The Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, to be held in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017 will be a key moment when these initiatives will be addressed.

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