EU-Level: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019

The latest on reform of coordination of social security systems, the EU directives linked to the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU social partners 2019–2021 work programme are the main topics of interest in this article. This update reports on the latest developments in working life in the European Union in the first quarter of 2019.

State of play of social security system reform

Presented in December 2016, the European Commission’s proposal on the revision of the regulations on the coordination of social security systems (which would amend Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 and Regulation (EC) No 987/2009) [1] finally entered the trilogue procedure on 15 January 2019. This was made possible by the fact that the European Parliament agreed on its negotiating mandate in November 2018 (the Council had previously done so in July 2018). The negotiations concluded on 19 March 2019 and the following key points were agreed. [2]

  • Unemployment benefits can be extended for six months, in order to give citizens more time to find work.
  • A one-month waiting period for receiving unemployment benefits in another Member State will be implemented in order to protect the social security system of the host Member State.
  • Workers will be better protected against the falsification of social security documents.
  • Cooperation between the administrations of Member States will be strengthened and deadlines shortened.
  • Long-term care will be an explicit part of the coordination of social security systems.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), representing social partners, reported that the trilogue meeting was heading in a positive direction. According to the confederation, the agreed deal improves and clarifies the rules for mobile and posted workers. In addition, there are some improvements for working people in terms of the portability of unemployment and family benefits.

There was no reaction from European employer organisations to the developments. However, in 2017, BusinessEurope stated that while some of changes proposed by the Commission went in the right direction, it was concerned that some of the proposals on unemployment benefits and the posting of workers would not meet the expected aims. [3] On 29 March, at a meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union (COREPER), the revision of the regulations did not obtain a qualified majority. An unusual coalition of old and new Member States was formed (against: Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden; abstaining: Hungary, Malta and Poland), which blocked the trilogue agreement for various reasons. This means that the future of the reform is unclear.

First legislative initiatives linked to European Pillar of Social Rights

There are currently proposals for two EU directives linked to the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights: one on predictable and transparent working conditions, and one on work–life balance.

On 7 February 2019, the Commission, European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the Commission's proposal concerning the first topic. The next step is for it to be formally adopted by both the Parliament and the Council. The new directive will extend the current worker rights to people employed in non-standard forms of employment that are not full-time and open-ended. The directive will also lighten the administrative burden on employers by giving them the opportunity to provide the requested information electronically. More specifically, the worker rights that are covered include the following.

  • Workers undertaking on-demand contracts or similar forms of employment should benefit from a minimum level of predictability in terms of working hours and days of work.
  • The employer should not prohibit, hinder or penalise workers in terms of taking jobs with other companies if this falls outside the work schedule established with the original employer.
  • Probationary periods should be no longer than six months or proportionate to the expected duration of the contract in the case of fixed-term employment.
  • Mandatory training foreseen in European and national legislation should be provided free of charge by the employer and count as working time.

According to Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, up to three million people active in new forms of work (such as workers on zero-hours contracts and domestic workers) will be covered by the new directive.

With regard to the proposal on the work–life balance directive, the Presidency of the Council of the EU and the Parliament reached a provisional agreement on 24 January 2019. The new directive will provide the following rights.

  • Paternity leave: Fathers or second parents will be able to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of the birth of a child, remunerated at a level equal to that currently set at EU level for maternity leave. The right to paternity leave will not be subject to a prior service requirement. However, the payment of paternity leave can be subject to the requirement of six months’ prior service. Member States with more generous parental leave systems will be able to keep their current national arrangements.
  • Parental leave: Workers will have the individual right to four months of parental leave, from which two months are non-transferable between the parents and are paid. The level of payment is to be set by Member States.
  • Carer leave: In a new concept at EU level, individuals who are looking after relatives in need of care or support for serious medical reasons will have the right to carers’ leave of five working days per year.
  • Flexible working arrangements: The right to request flexible working arrangements will be extended to working carers in addition to all parents.

The ETUC welcomed the agreement,[4] while there was no official response from employer organisations. It should be noted that the directive received support from AGE Platform Europe (a European network of non-profit organisations for people aged 50+), which called for it to be swiftly incorporated into national laws and practices. [5]

EU social partners agree joint work programme

On 6 February, the European cross-industry social partners (ETUC, BusinessEurope, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest (CEEP) and SMEunited) signed a joint work programme for 2019–2021.

Negotiations started in May 2018. The main element of controversy was whether a declaration to negotiate a European framework agreement related to the impact of broadly defined digitalisation on the working environment would be included in the text (in accordance with the demands of the trade unions). In the end, the document was accepted by the employer organisations. The programme addresses six priorities:

  1. digitalisation
  2. improving the performance of labour markets and social systems
  3. skills
  4. addressing the psycho-social aspects of work and risks at work
  5. capacity-building for stronger social dialogue
  6. a circular economy

Tripartite Social Summit explores challenges related to free movement of workers

On 20 March, the spring Tripartite Social Summit took place. The main theme was ‘For a stronger, united and forward-looking Europe’. Discussions focused on three areas:

  • 50 years of labour mobility: making the best of free movement of workers for well-functioning labour markets
  • delivering investments in a deeper and fairer single market
  • building on the new start for social dialogue to shape the new world of work

One of the focal points for discussion between EU leaders and social partners was how to benefit more effectively from the free movement of workers in order to achieve well-functioning labour markets. Recent steps in that direction include:

  • the digitalisation of social security coordination
  • the reform of the posting of workers
  • the establishment of the European Labour Authority

 

 


Footnotes

  1. ^ Eurofound (2016), EU Level: Latest working life developments – Q4 2016 .
  2. ^ The Greens/European Free Alliance (2019), Coordination of social security systems , 19 March.
  3. ^ BusinessEurope (2017), Appropriate rules on coordination of social security crucial to facilitate mobility , 9 June.
  4. ^ ETUC (2019), Progress on work–balance breathes life into Social Europe , 24 January.
  5. ^ AGE Platform Europe (2019), Work–life balance directive: AGE supports adoption in open letter to EPSCO Council , 11 March.

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