EU Level: Latest working life developments – Q4 2016

The European Commission’s 2017 Work Programme, the role of the social partners in relation to the issue of harassment and violence at work and the second part of the mobility package on coordinating social security benefits are the main topics of interest in this article. This update reports on the latest developments in working life at European Union level in the last quarter of 2016.

Social dialogue

In line with its Communication on social dialogue (PDF), the European Commission announced that it will monitor the EU social partners’ autonomous framework agreement on violence and harassment at work. The social partners involved are:

  • Confederation of European Business (BUSINESSEUROPE);
  • European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME);
  • European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of General Interest (CEEP);
  • European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

In 2015, the Commission published a study on the role of the social partners in relation to the issue of harassment and violence at work and their actions according to the procedures and practices specific to management and labour in Member States. Focusing in particular on psychosocial risks, the aims of the study were to:

  • provide sound information on the impact of the autonomous agreement on harassment and violence at work;
  • identify national legislation and practices with regard to measures to eliminate harassment and violence at work;
  • collect background information on harassment and violence at work in all EU28 Member States and other countries in the European Economic Area (including a critical assessment of the reporting systems put in place by social partners and national public authorities);
  • explore the extent to which the implementation of the agreement meets the EU’s objectives as stated in the consultation documents leading up to social partner negotiations, as well as those set by the social partners in their autonomous framework agreement.

European Commission’s 2017 Work Programme

On 25 October 2016, the European Commission presented its 2017 Work Programme entitled Delivering a Europe that protects, empowers and defends. During 2017 the Commission will work within the framework of the 10 priorities outlined in President Juncker’s political guidelines (PDF).

Beyond the new initiatives, there were also several regulatory fitness and performance reviews (REFIT) revisions to current laws and priority pending proposals for the co-legislators. In parallel, the Commission published a scoreboard which details the follow-up to suggestions from the REFIT Platform (which was set up in 2015 to advise the Commission on how to make regulation more efficient and effective). The Commission also proposed the withdrawal or modification of 19 pieces of legislation and 16 repeals.

Two of the 10 priorities in the 2017 Work Programme include new initiatives relevant to working life

New Boost for Jobs, Growth and Investment

The Youth Initiative within this priority includes a proposal to create a European Solidarity Corps, which is a mixture of legislative and non-legislative measures to implement the youth aspects of the Skills Agenda. These measures include:

  • a quality framework for apprenticeships and a proposal on increased mobility for apprentices (legislative);
  • modernising school and higher education (non-legislative);
  • a proposal for improved tracking of outcomes for graduates but also for young people who have followed vocational education and training (non-legislative).

The Work Programme gives the second quarter of 2017 as the planned date for the two non-legislative proposals.

Deeper and Fairer Economic and Monetary Union

This priority includes two initiatives which could impact on working life.

A strong Union built on a strong EMU

The White Paper on the future of Europe (non-legislative) planned for the first quarter of 2017 will set out steps on how to reform a European Union of 27 Member States, 60 years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome. It will also cover the future of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the preparation of stage 2 of the EMU within the new political and democratic, including a stability-oriented review of the Stability and Growth Pact and the follow-up to Article 16 of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the EMU (incorporating the substance of this treaty into the EU legal framework).

European Pillar of Social Rights

Following public consultation, a proposal for a Pillar of Social Rights will be set out in the first quarter of 2017, putting forward measures to address:

  • the challenges of finding a good work–life balance faced by working families (these proposals will be legislative and non-legislative, including an impact assessment; Articles 153 and 157 of the Treaty of Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) apply);
  • access to social protection (legislative/non-legislative, including an impact assessment; Articles 153 and 292 of the TFEU apply);
  • implementation of the Working Time Directive (non-legislative);
  • a REFIT revision of the Written Statement Directive establishing an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship (legislative, including impact assessment; Articles 153.1(b) and 154 of the TFEU apply).

Proposals to revise the rules on the coordination of social security systems

On 13 December 2016, the European Commission published its proposal on the revision of regulation on the coordination of social security systems (PDF), which would amend Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 and Regulation (EC) No 987/2009. The proposal focuses on four areas of coordination where improvements are required:

  • access  to social benefits for economically inactive citizens;
  • long-term care benefits;
  • unemployment benefits;
  • family benefits.

The revision has several key proposals.

  • It seeks to clarify the circumstances in which Member States can limit access to social benefits claimed by economically inactive EU mobile citizens (PDF). Based on case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the proposal clarifies that Member States may decide not to grant social benefits to mobile citizens who are economically inactive, that is, those who are not working nor actively looking for a job, and who do not have the legal right of residence on their territory. Economically inactive citizens have a legal right of residence only when they have means of subsistence and comprehensive health coverage.
  • It aims to establish a consistent regime for the coordination of long-term care benefits (PDF), currently dealt with under the sickness chapter of Regulation (EC) No 883/2004, by introducing a separate chapter for their coordination and providing for a list of the benefits.
  • It proposes new arrangements for the coordination of unemployment benefits in cross-border cases (PDF). These concern the aggregation of periods of insurance for creating or retaining a right to unemployment benefits, the export of unemployment benefits and the determination of which Member State is responsible for paying unemployment benefits to frontier workers and other cross-border workers. It requires a minimum qualifying period of three months insurance in the Member State of most recent activity before a right to aggregate past periods of insurance arises (while requiring the Member State of previous activity to provide benefits when this condition is not fulfilled). It extends the minimum period for an export of unemployment benefits from three to six months. Furthermore, it suggests making the Member State of most recent employment responsible for the payment of unemployment benefits when the frontier worker has worked there for at least 12 months and otherwise attributing the responsibility to the Member State of residence.
  • The proposal also contains new provisions for the coordination of family benefits intended to replace income during child-raising periods. These kinds of benefits are available in 22 Member States. It changes the current coordination provisions so that child-raising allowances are considered individual and personal rights, and to permit an optional right for the secondary competent Member State to pay the benefit in full.
  • It tries to clarify the conflict rules on applicable legislation and the relationship between the Regulations and Directive 96/71/EC on the Posting of Workers (PDF).
  • The proposal also grants new implementing powers to the Commission under Article 291 of the TFEU to further specify a uniform approach to the issue, verification and withdrawal of Portable Document A1 (a certificate about the social security legislation which applies to the holder).

Outlook

Some of the developments in the field of employment and social affairs anticipated in the next quarter are described in the European Commission’s 2017 Work Programme, such as the initiatives to address the challenges of work–life balance faced by working families (expected on 14 March 2017). In March to April, the European Commission will publish its initiatives on the European Pillar of Social Rights. Finally, also in the spring and coinciding with the celebration of 60 years since the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the European Commission will publish its White Paper on the future of Europe.

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