EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

EU-level: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

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Launch of the second phase consultation of social partners of the Written Statement Directive, social partners’ positions regarding aspects of the European Pillar of Social Rights​ , and President Juncker's State of the Union address are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life at EU level in the third quarter of 2017.

Second phase consultation document of social partners

In a press release on 25 September 2017, the European Commission announced the launch of a second phase consultation of social partners (PDF) of the Written Statement Directive in the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights.  The consultation document began by summarising the social partners’ diverging views at the first phase consultation, and concluded that the social partners were not in a position to initiate formally the joint negotiation process provided for in Article 155 TFEU. However, it reserved the possibility of doing so in the context of the second phase consultation.

The Commission identified possible avenues for a revision of the Written Statement Directive as described in the first phase consultation, such as:

  • the scope of application encompassing all workers in the EU;
  • a right to information on the applicable working conditions;
  • new minimum rights aimed at reducing precariousness in employment;
  • enforcement;
  • impact of measures.

The Commission also published an analytical document (PDF) accompanying the second phase consultation, which provided extensive background and contextual information to inform social partners’ deliberations during the consultation. It also explains the Commission’s rationale for the options for action outlined in the consultation document. In this second phase consultation, the Commission has requested the EU social partners’ views on possible avenues for EU action and asked whether the social partners were willing to enter into negotiations to conclude an agreement.

The Commission will take the results of this consultation into account in its work to develop a legislative proposal, but it may suspend such work if the social partners announce, before 3 November 2017, that they have decided to negotiate between themselves. If the social partners decide not to start negotiations, the Commission will consider bringing forward a proposal to modify and/or complement existing legislation, which would be supported by an impact assessment.

Social partners’ position papers

Some EU-level social partners have published position papers on some of the European Commission’s main components of the European Pillar of Social Rights. This section presents their views on the work–life balance package and their responses to the first phase consultation of social partners on possible action to address the challenges of access to social protection.

Work-life balance package

BusinessEurope, which represents business federations in 34 European countries, argues in its position paper (PDF) that the EU and national policy efforts should concentrate on having more and efficient childcare facilities with extended opening hours, as well as facilities for older people, in order to allow men and women to better reconcile work and family life. It views the Commission’s legislative proposal as 

an outdated and one-sided vision of reconciliation, which does not fit with today’s reality of the workplace. It will also have far-reaching costs for employers, which the Commission’s impact assessment underestimates while anticipating unrealistic returns.

BusinessEurope also argues that by putting forward a catalogue of leaves at EU level, whereas Europe is already at the forefront in this field globally, the Commission jeopardises the current functioning of leave arrangements in the Member States, and creates the risk of making leaves counterproductive for the economy.

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), also argues in its position paper (PDF) that the Commission’s approach is wrong and will create serious obstacles for innovation and employment in SMEs. It is also concerned by the financial costs related to the level of sick leave payment, either as direct labour costs or indirectly through higher taxes for companies stemming from the proposal for paternity, parental and carers’ leaves.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) broadly welcomes the Commission’s package and mixed policy approach in its assessment. It strongly supports the proposal of a new Directive on work–life balance which introduces several improvements, such as:

  • revising the current individual entitlement on parental leave;
  • introducing an individual entitlement to paternity leave of at least 10 working days, paid at least at sick pay level;
  • introducing an individual entitlement to carer’s leave of at least five days per year paid at sick pay level, and providing for a right to flexible working arrangements for workers with children or other dependent relatives.

However, ETUC regrets that the Commission failed to put forward a revision of the Maternity Protection Directive (92/85/EEC).

Access to social protection

Preliminary responses indicate that both sides of industry agree that gaps in social protection should be addressed. Some social partners want the Commission to make a proposal on this, while others consider that the decision should be left to Member States.

BusinessEurope, in its response, states that social protection is an important aspect of national social systems (PDF) and part of the social dimension of the EU overall. Since it is a Member State competence, harmonised legislative requirements at EU level would not be appropriate. It then argues that EU action should focus on supporting Member State efforts to improve the functioning of their labour markets and economies, as well-performing economies are a precondition for sustainable social protection systems. BusinessEurope, therefore, does not consider initiating a dialogue under Article 155 TFEU.

ETUC, in its response, welcomes the consultation and insists that the missing ingredient is clear proposals on the creation of quality jobs – with agreed indicators to track them. These indicators must include access to social protection. Therefore, the identified key aspects of insufficient access (the gap in access to social protection, lack of transferability of rights, as well as a lack of transparency about their social protection entitlements) are indeed important challenges to be tackled, but emphasis needs to be put on challenging the divergent social rights of people with respect to social protection and employment services.

ETUC is ready to start negotiations with employer organisations at EU level. However, in the event that the EU social partners do not agree to negotiate, or if negotiations do not lead to a successful outcome, it urges the Commission to come up with a legislative proposal. As for voluntary consultation on the coverage of self-employment, ETUC supports proposals for standards to cover self-employed and non-standard workers. It also welcomes the widening of the scope of social protection to include self-employed workers. However, in funding such protection, a progressive and contributory participation of the whole workforce, the self-employed in particular, should be encouraged.

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), in its response (PDF), considers that the Commission sufficiently covered the issues and possible areas for action, but that additional analysis is required. It argues that addressing these topics needs to be carried out carefully, at the appropriate level, taking into account a variety of policy options including increasing the flexibility of the labour market and reducing labour costs. The focus should therefore be on enforcement. UEAPME then concludes that ensuring access to social protection for all is important, and it supports initiatives at national level to address this. However, given the fact that social protection is the strict competence of the Member States and that governments have a very important role to play, it does not see scope for a dialogue in terms of Article 155 TFEU.

UEAPME promotes and supports the position that the self-employed should have basic levels of social protection at a reasonable cost. Member States should facilitate, incentivise and remove obstacles for subscribing to higher protection levels on a flexible and, as much as possible, voluntary basis. Participation in insurance schemes should be facilitated with offers that are tailored to the needs of the self-employed. It argues that it is neither feasible nor desirable that all social and labour law rules for workers are applied to self-employed, as this:

  • does not fit the needs and wishes of different categories of the self-employment;
  • only adds to the rigidity of the labour market when it needs to be more adapted to today’s conditions.

According to UEAMPE, any initiative should remain flexible.

The European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI), in its response (PDF), welcomes the consultation, and generally agrees with the Commission’s description and analysis of the challenges related to insufficient access to social protection. In order to avoid widening gaps in rights, entitlements and protection levels between standard and non-standard forms of employment, CESI believes that the initiative must include all workers in non-standard forms of employment. It is in favour of social partner dialogue under Article 155 TFEU. This also applies to topics related to social protection. However, if social dialogue reaches its limits and no adequate improvements can be achieved for workers, CESI calls on the legislator to act – where possible.

State of the Union address

The State of the Union address is part of the process for the adoption of the annual Commission Work Programme, and thus plays an important role in identifying major political priorities to be agreed in interinstitutional dialogue with the European Parliament and the Council. This year’s State of the Union speech by the European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as the Commission’s letter of intent (PDF) to the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, and to the Presidency of the Council, and the State of the Union 2017 brochure (PDF), framed some of the current and forthcoming initiatives for the Commission’s work programme 2018 (and onwards) in advance of their presentation on 24 October 2017. Here are some initiatives relevant to EurWork’s field:

Priority 4:

This sets out a deeper and fairer single market with a strengthened industrial base, with President Junker presenting a policy strategy on investing in a smart, innovative and sustainable industry (PDF). Key points in this strategy are the European Industry Day and the High Level Industrial Roundtable.

The Commission will organise an annual Industry Day involving all relevant stakeholders ahead of the Spring European Council to ensure that policies at European, national, regional and local levels work together to enable European industry to deliver jobs, growth and innovation in Europe. It will also highlight emerging industrial, societal and environmental trends that may need a policy response.

The Commission will present the conclusions of Industry Day to a High Level Industrial Roundtable in 2018, with representatives of national, regional and local authorities, industry, social partners and civil society. The High Level Industrial Roundtable will provide feedback on the Commission’s initiatives and actions, and will advise on the implementation of industrial policy at different levels.

The Annex (PDF) provides a non-exhaustive overview of key actions on:

  • the single market,
  • upgrading industry for the digital age;
  • building on Europe’s leadership in a low-carbon and circular economy;
  • investing in the industry of the future;
  • supporting industrial innovation;
  • the international dimension;
  • partnership with Member States, regions, cities and the private sector.

President Juncker also encouraged co-legislators to reach an agreement on the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive (PDF). In addition, President Juncker announced plans for a proposal to establish a European Labour Authority (PDF) by the end of 2018 to strengthen cooperation between labour market authorities at all levels and to better manage cross-border situations, as well as further initiatives in support of fair mobility, such as a European Social Security Number.

In order to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, President Juncker identified the proposals for a revision of the Written Statement Directive to improve the transparency and legal predictability of employment contracts, and an initiative on access to social protection for atypical self-employed workers – subject to the results of the consultation of social partners.

Priority 5:

This is aimed at a deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), with President Juncker presenting a Roadmap to EU 2025 (PDF), built on democratic values and efficient decision-making to steer the reform and to stimulate discussion. President Juncker called for various euro zone and EU institutional reforms, and announced that he will present a set of proposals to reform the EMU on 6 December 2017.

Other initiatives

Other important initiatives will be:

  • the proposal for the future Multiannual Financial Framework beyond 2020;
  • the EU Company Law package, making the best of digital solutions and providing efficient rules for cross-border operations while respecting national social and labour law prerogatives;
  • the forthcoming Reflection Paper ‘Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030’ on the follow-up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Commentary

The Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are working towards reaching broad political support and high level endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The European Union leaders  proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights at the Social Summit for fair jobs and growth in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 17 November 2017. 

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