EU level: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

The European Parliament’s backing of the work–life balance directive, the reaction of social partners to social rights initiatives, an overdue review of CETA and an extension to the joint fight against cancer 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 third quarter of 2018.

Work–life balance directive backed by European Parliament

On 11 July, the European Parliament’s Employment Committee voted to adopt the Directive on work–life balance for parents and carers. The committee backed the European Commission’s proposal to introduce the right to paid paternity leave of at least 10 working days for fathers around the time of a birth or stillbirth. It also extended the scope to cover equivalent second parents, as defined in national law, and in the event of the adoption of a child. Finally, the committee restored provisions for four months of non-transferable parental leave (as originally proposed – reduced to two months by the European Council) to be taken before a child is 10 years old, as well as adopting paid leave for workers caring for someone with a serious medical condition or an age-related impairment.

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME) expressed strong concerns regarding the vote on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). UEAPME stressed that SMEs and micro-companies need more realistic European work–life balance legislation. The association also said that it had disagreed with the proposal from the outset, on account of the potential negative impact on employment and work organisation within small businesses.

Social partners react to social rights initiatives

UEAPME shared its position on the Commission’s proposal to establish a European Labour Authority (ELA). In the association’s view, joint labour inspections should remain the responsibility of national authorities and take place at the request of the Member States concerned. National competences in this area should be respected and the future National Liaison Officers should contribute to how joint inspections are decided upon and organised.

On the involvement of the ELA in arbitration through a dispute resolution mechanism, UEAPME stressed that this is primarily the role of the European Court of Justice. The ELA could facilitate exchanges and solve problems between Member States on a voluntary basis and at the request of Member States.

In a letter to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz concerning priorities for the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU, BusinessEurope stressed that EU social policy must ensure that social progress is based on economic progress. The group said that such policy should also support Member States in their efforts to introduce labour market reforms, rather than imposing additional constraints and costs that undermine job creation or the sustainability of social protection systems. The EU definition of workers in the Commission proposal for a Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions (previously known as the Written Statement Directive) was highlighted as a particularly problematic proposal.

Trade unions call on the EU to engage with and review CETA

On 10 September, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) released a joint statement on the Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The unions highlighted that despite an agreement between Canada and the EU to conduct an early review of CETA ‘with a view to the effective enforceability of CETA provisions’, there has been little progress in this regard.

The unions noted that Canada has been committed to a sanctions-based approach regarding labour rights in its free trade agreements. In such a situation, the EU’s inaction with regard to reviewing CETA is undermining the effective enforceability of labour rights by Canada in third countries with which both the EU and Canada have free trade agreements.

According to the unions, the EU should start to engage seriously to ensure that commitments both parties made to respect core International Labour Organization (ILO) standards and promote the Decent Work Agenda become effectively enforceable.

Growing impact of digitalisation on European labour markets

An informal meeting between employment and social policy ministers took place in Vienna on 19–20 July. The ministers discussed challenges that are emerging due to the increasing digitalisation of European labour markets and new forms of work, such as robotics and platform work.

Joint initiative against work-related cancers launched

On 24–25 September, at a conference organised by the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the European Commission, governments, employers and trade unions agreed to extend the ‘Roadmap on Carcinogens’ initiative in order to continue their collaborative fight against work-related cancers.

The roadmap was launched in May 2016, during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the EU, and aims to share workplace practices that prevent exposure to carcinogens in the workplace. With the extension, the roadmap will now continue until Helsinki 2019 under the Finnish Presidency.

Platforms and networks assess key social rights

The European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) published an assessment of the current paternity and parental leave policies across the EU on 25 July. The policy memo provides an overview of the various policies, and examines these provisions against the changes proposed within the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the new Directive on work–life balance for parents and carers.

EPIC published a second policy memo on 27 September, which provides an overview of the policies and initiatives in Member States that support family-friendly workplaces. The memo also includes examples of legislative provisions for flexible working and non-legislative initiatives.

On 7 September, the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) published the results of a study on long-term care provision in Europe – important for workers who combine work with care. The synthesis report describes the national long-term care provisions in 35 European countries, with a focus on long-term care arrangements for the elderly (65 or over). It identifies national reforms aimed at tackling challenges and puts forward a number of recommendations.

The country-specific reports analyse four main challenges that are common to all European countries: the access and adequacy of long-term care provision; the quality of formal home care, as well as residential services; the employment of informal carers; and the financial sustainability of national long-term care systems.

The Mutual Information System on Social Protection (MISSOC) published updated information (up to January 2018) on social protection systems in all EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The information includes brief descriptions of the organisation of these systems and information on social protection for the self-employed.


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