EU-level developments in industrial relations and working conditions - Q3 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

Institutions

The new European Commission

Jean Claude Juncker has been elected the new President of the European Commission 2014–2019. A questions and answers memo on the Junker Commission, published on 10 September 2014 outlines the changes in the way the Commission will operate:

there will be 6 Vice-Presidents in addition to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who is at the same time a Vice-President of the EC. There will be a First Vice-President, who will be in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Frans Timmermans). The First Vice-President will act as the right-hand of the President.

On the role of Vice-Presidents, it states that they ‘will lead project teams, steering and coordinating the work of a number of Commissioners.’ Furthermore, ‘Vice-Presidents and Commissioners will be mutually dependent on one another. It continues:

Vice-Presidents will be in charge of a number of well-defined priority projects and will steer and coordinate work across the Commission in the key areas of the Political Guidelines … [They] will also have a strategic filtering role. As a general rule, the President will not put any new initiative in the Commission Work Programme or on the agenda of the College that has not received the backing of a Vice-President, on the basis of sound arguments and a clear narrative … The Vice-Presidents will also decide who, in their area of responsibility, will represent the European Commission in the other European institutions, in national Parliaments and in other institutional settings at national, EU and international level … They will be supported by the Secretariat General in their tasks but will primarily rely on the close cooperation with the relevant Commissioners and the services that report to them.

The Vice-Presidents and Commissioner who are the most relevant for industrial relations and social policy are:

Jyrki Katainen – Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, EU semester

In President Juncker’s mission letter to the Mr Katainen, he outlined the main responsibilities of this role:

  • working to deliver within the first three months of the mandate, the jobs, growth and investment package;
  • coordinating the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy and help ensure progress towards EU targets in this field;
  • working closely with the Vice-Presidents for the Euro and Social Dialogue to ensure that the EU’s economic policy coordination is effective and successful, in line with the goals of the social market economy;
  • keeping the competitiveness dimension prominently at the heart of the EC’s policy work and helping improve the business environment in order to strengthen Europe as an attractive place to work and invest;
  • supporting the VP for Budget and Human Resources in the preparation of the 2016 review of the MFF with a view to further increasing the EU budget’s focus on jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness.

Valdis Dombrovskis – Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue

In President Juncker’s mission letter to the Mr Dombrovskis, he outlined the main responsibilities of this role:

  • steering the work on the European Semester of economic policy coordination, its streamlining and reinforcement;
  • promoting social dialogue and engaging with social partners at EU level on all aspects of interest for the delivery of priorities;
  • pursuing the work of the ‘Four Presidents’ report’ and the Commission’s Blueprint for a Deep and Genuine Economic and Monetary Union, integrating the social dimension;
  • paving the way for legislative and non-legislative initiatives to deepen the EMU which should be prepared during the first year of mandate;
  • preparing, for the medium-term, a re-balancing of the way in which conditional stability support is granted to Euro area countries in difficulty. This should include the possibility of replacing the ‘troika’ with a more democratically legitimate and more accountable structure;
  • assist the President in all matters related to the work of the European Council and the Euro area Summit, with regard to the economic governance of the Euro area or the EU as a whole;
  • manage and coordinate the Commission’s participation in the Council configuration ‘Economic and Financial Affairs’, in the Eurogroup, in the economic dialogue with the European Parliament, in the Macroeconomic Dialogue and in the Governing Council of the European Central Bank, as well as for the preparation of the Tripartite Social Summits.

Marianne Thyssen – Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility

In President Juncker’s mission letter to the Ms Thyssen, he outlined the main responsibilities of her mandate:

  • contributing, as part of the project team steered by the Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, to the jobs, growth and investment package to be presented within the first three months of their mandate. This includes setting out their priorities and channelling funding towards projects that can help get the younger generation back to work in decent jobs, further complementing the efforts already undertaken with the Youth Guarantee Scheme, the implementation of which must be accelerated and progressively broadened;
  • supporting the Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue in the project to streamline and reinforce the European Semester of economic policy coordination;
  • contributing, as part of the project team steered by the Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, to the work on the deepening of the EMU, to be prepared during the first year of the mandate, and to promoting social dialogue at all levels. This also includes developing social impact assessments for any future conditional stability support programmes for Euro area countries;
  • promoting free movement of workers, working closely with national authorities to ensure that existing rules are well understood and implemented, as well as to fight possible abuses or fraudulent claims. This work will include making sure that the Posting of Workers Directive is strictly implemented and initiating a targeted review of the Directive to prevent risks of social dumping;
  • mobilising EU instruments (such as policy guidance, social dialogue, financial programmes) to further develop the skills level of the European workforce, by promoting vocational training and lifelong learning;
  • maximising the performance of EU programmes in her field, including by supporting forms of social innovation, and reinforcing synergies with other programmes such as Horizon 2020, in order to enrich national and EU policymaking;
  • ensuring that employment and social considerations, including the impact of ageing and skills needs are appropriately taken into account in all Commission proposals and activities.

Labour-related legislation

The Commission presented in July 2014 a proposal for a Directive on working time for inland waterway workers. A new release from the Commission states:

The proposed Directive would implement an agreement reached by EU-level representatives of employers and employees in this sector, which is adapted to the distinctive working conditions on inland waterways. It would facilitate the application of the maximum working time rules on passenger and cargo transport ships and barges on inland waterways throughout the EU. These rules would therefore contribute to improving the working conditions of 31,000 shipboard personnel and to fairer competitive conditions for the 9,645 enterprises active in this sector. The proposed Directive would complement the general working time Directive (2003/88/EC), which does not cover inland waterway workers.

The European Commission suggested that it was going to withdraw its draft directive on maternity leave, for which debates have been at a standstill for three years because the positions of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are too far apart, as published in an article by Planet Labour. The Italian Presidency of the EU, which began on 1 July, promised to revive the talks at the Council of Ministers to give this text one last chance.

Collective bargaining and social dialogue

In view of its forthcoming report on the application of the Working Time Directive and the impact assessment on the future of the Directive, on 4 July 2014 the Commission started the consultation with Member State governments and social partners on the practical implementation of Directive 2003/88/EС concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 10 September 2014 adopted the EESC opinion SOC/507 on the structure and organisation of social dialogue in the context of a genuine EMU, drafted by Georgios Dassis (GR.II, EL). In the light of the role played by the EESC in the process established in 1985 which led to the emergence of the European Social Dialogue, then formally recognised in the Single European Act, the European Parliament considered the EESC point of view particularly valuable. The Parliament requested an EESC opinion, which would serve as a basis for the new legislature to ensure a contribution and the continuous involvement of the Parliament in future EMU reforms.

Working time

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) raised concerns regarding two new studies launched by the Commission which will look into the administrative burden for companies, assess the impact for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the costs on companies in view of future changes to the Working Time Directive. In a letter sent to Commission President Barroso and Commissioner Andor in September 2014, the ETUC SG, argued that the subject for these studies ‘has little to do with workers’ health and safety and has everything to do with the Refit initiative’.

Equality and equal opportunities

On 22 September 2014, in the plenary session of the European Social Dialogue Committee on Telecommunications, the social partners UNI Europa and the European Telecommunication Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) signed a Joint Declaration on gender equality. The joint declaration is based on two principles:

  • equal rights between men and women, involving non-discrimination between employees due to gender either directly or indirectly;
  • equal opportunities aiming to address, by concrete measures, inequalities that may be encountered by women in the professional sphere.

The social partners are looking to apply these two principles in order to ensure equal treatment for men and women when accessing jobs and employment, when receiving vocational training and professional development to access top management positions, and also to receive equal pay and working conditions.

References

Press releases from the European Commission and the European cross-sector and sectoral social partners, IR Notes and IRshare, Planet Labour, SEE Europe website, EUNews Strategy (July – September 2014) of Eurofound’s Brussels Liaison Office.

Further information

For further information, contact Christian Welz: cwe@eurofound.europa.eu

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