EU Level: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

Endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Commission’s Directive on working conditions, the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment, and fourth Eurocadres congress 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 fourth quarter of 2017.

Social rights

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, hosted the Tripartite Social Summit to promote fair jobs and growth in Europe in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017. The summit gathered heads of state and government, and representatives from businesses and trade unions. At the summit, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The European social partners also signed a joint statement (PDF) on the same occasion.

A concluding report (PDF) was published to frame the follow-up of the summit, which started with the December 2017 European Council (held on 14–15 December). The report said:

The Summit was an occasion to reaffirm a joint responsibility to tackle the challenges our labour markets face at all levels. It stressed that employment and social progress are first and foremost created on the ground. The wealth of experiences shared will serve as inspiration for governments and stakeholders on how to design and implement policies in the future. The need to promote convergence of our economies and societies should be met by efforts at all levels, including by the social partners. While taking account of the diversity of social traditions across Europe, further steps should be taken to improve access to labour markets, ensure fair employment and working conditions and support transitions between jobs.

More specifically, the summit affirmed the need to put people first through joint efforts at all levels, and to further develop the social dimension of the European Union, based on a shared commitment and established competences. The next steps should be:

  • implementing the principles and rights set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights, notably through the European Semester of policy coordination and in the Member States’ 2018 National Reform Programmes
  • facilitating a well-functioning social dialogue at all levels, including the new start for social dialogue at EU level;
  • progressing swiftly on pending social files at EU level, including posting of workers (PDF), rules on social security coordination, and work–life balance for parents and carers and the European Accessibility Act, as well as being ready to swiftly examine future initiatives announced by the Commission in its Work Programme for 2018
  • following up on the priorities of the EU Action Plan 2018–2019 to tackle the gender pay gap;
  • delivering further on the New Skills Agenda for Europe, with a particular focus in 2018 on implementing the Council recommendation on upskilling pathways, intended for people with the biggest skills needs.

The summit was a milestone in the debate on the future of Europe before the meeting of EU leaders in Sibiu, Romania on 9 May 2019. The co-hosts looked forward to the continued efforts of the Estonian, Bulgarian and Austrian presidencies to continue the work on the social dimension of Europe as part of the 18-month Programme of the Council of the EU (July 2017–December 2018), as well as to the further work of the European Parliament in this field ahead of the European elections in June 2019.

Working conditions

As announced, and as part of the follow-up to the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Commission presented a proposal for a new Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions in the EU on 21 December 2017. This builds on Directive 91/533/EC of an employer’s obligation to inform employees about the conditions applicable to their contract or employment relationship (the Written Statement Directive), which is currently in force and requires updating in the light of changes in the world of work. The general objective of the proposed Directive is to promote more secure and predictable employment, while ensuring labour market adaptability and improving living and working conditions.

The scope of the new proposal was extended to cover more workers (2–3 million according to the Commission’s estimates) as it will include additional workers on atypical contracts. It does so by defining what is a worker, based on established case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for determining worker status, and extended by reducing the possibilities for Member States to exclude workers in short or casual employment relationships.

In addition, Chapter II of the Directive establishes a new type of information to be offered by the employer, by improving the predictability of working conditions (including probation, training arrangements and remuneration for overtime, working time, and the social security institution where contributions are paid). The deadline for providing the information individually to the worker would be, at the latest, on the first day of the employment relationship, in the form of a written document, in paper or electronic form.

In Chapter III, the Directive establishes new rights such as:

  • limiting the length of probationary periods to six months, unless longer is objectively justified
  • the right to work for other employers, with a ban on exclusivity clauses and restrictions on incompatibility clauses
  • the right to predictability of work: workers with variable working schedules determined by the employer (such as on-demand work) should know in advance when they can be requested to work
  • the ability to request a more stable form of employment and to receive a justified written reply (generally within one month; but within three months for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and orally for repeated requests)
  • the right to cost-free mandatory training

In Chapter V, the Directive strengthens the legal enforcement, introducing two alternative procedures for addressing missing information:

  • positive presumptions (if no relevant information has been supplied, and there has been no probation, or permanent and/or full-time employment relationship)
  • an administrative procedure to issue an injunction to an employer to supply missing information

In addition, provisions based on the existing body of EU social law are introduced on compliance, the right to redress, prevention of adverse treatment, burden of proof on dismissal, and penalties.

Social dialogue

The Autumn Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment (a forum for discussion between the EU institutions and social partners) held in Brussels on 18 October 2017, was devoted to ‘Shaping Europe’s future: strengthening resilience and promoting economic and social progress for all’. The discussions were focused on three areas:

  • the social dimension of Europe
  • progress achieved to improve the involvement of social partners in policies and reforms at national level
  • investing in learning in a digital economy and society

The discussions fed into the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, held in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017.

In her speech, Emma Marcegaglia, President of The Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope), said BusinessEurope was glad that President Juncker in his State of the Union speech had clearly acknowledged the importance of developing an EU industrial strategy (PDF).

The Commission communication was an important first step in delivering the strategy in a structured way, with concrete actions to support the development of EU industry, and with the Commission working hand-in-hand with the Competitiveness Council. Regarding social policy, Europe needed to shape Europe’s social dimension in a way that supports economic development and employment creation in all Member States. The social dimension of Europe cannot aim for harmonised standards, going beyond the already well-developed EU social legislation.

In his speech, Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) insisted that the European Semester should be both economic and social, in line with the spirit of the EU’s ‘social market economy’. He said ETUC expected the Social Scoreboard, as well as the very interesting idea of a European Social Standards Union, to be incorporated into the legal basis of the Semester, and the Fiscal Compact to be transposed into EU law.

ETUC also expects a Social Progress Protocol, making clear that social rights were not overruled by economic freedoms. He mentioned the ETUC campaign for a pay rise for European workers, particularly to close the east–west pay gap, and to end gender and age pay gaps, and proposed to the Commission, governments, employer organisations and companies, a win-win alliance for upward wage convergence, aligning real wage increases with productivity developments of the last decade, particularly in the central and eastern European countries. Such an alliance should be based on the promotion of sound industrial relations, better minimum wages, legal frameworks and capacity-building to encourage the social partners to negotiate.

Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, President of the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME) said in her speech, that the first priority was to better combine the economic and social dimensions (PDF). This required greater competitiveness and well-functioning labour markets. The increase of self-employment, expectations of young people and development of new business models should not be considered as a negative trend but more as an opportunity: she said ‘We have to recall that the self-employed are entrepreneurs.’ Ms Rabmer-Koller added ‘UEAPME considers that doing more together in a more effective way should be limited to areas where there is real European added value and where unilateral measures have a negative impact on the single market and on the necessary convergence.’

Milena Angelova, Vice President of the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest, (CEEP) and Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, presented the views of employers of public services on the future of the EU. They said that public service employers will work with EU institutions and Member States to create a strong framework of modernised and high-performing public services to reconnect citizens and enterprises with the EU project: ‘The Pillar of Social Rights contains strong elements for the development of public services, which we strongly support.’

Social partners

On 30–31 October 2017, at its fourth Congress, the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff (Eurocadres) elected a new presidium, and adopted emergency resolutions on:

Also adopted was Eurocadres' policy programme (PDF) laying out its main thematic priorities for the next four years:

  • quality of working life
  • real freedom of mobility
  • a stronger knowledge-based Europe

In October, the European Services Workers Union (UniEuropa) organised the first workshop for its project Shaping industrial relations in a digitalising services industry – Challenges and opportunities for social partners (PDF), carried out in cooperation with the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) in Vienna, and funded by the European Commission. The project aims to provide policy advice for trade unions, social partners and policymakers on such issues as:

  • necessary adaptations of institutional frameworks for industrial relations
  • collective bargaining
  • social dialogue and capacity-building for social partners

Also in October, the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) organised a mid-term conference on their project Cross-border social fraud/Abuse in social security (PDF), financed by the European Commission and carried out in partnership with the chemicals and metallurgy sectors of the European Trade Union Confederation (IndustriAll), the food and agriculture sectors of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), the road transport sector of European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and ETUC. The objective of the conference was to present some initial results of fact-finding missions and case studies of relevance for the project development.

Outlook

Following the announcements made in Commission President Juncker’s 2017 State of the Union Address and the Commission’s 2018 Work Programme, the next Commission initiatives relevant to working life developments are in the social fairness package, expected in early March 2018. This consists of:

  • a proposal to establish a European Labour Authority
  • an initiative on access to social protection for atypical self-employed workers
  • an initiative on a European social security number that could be used across policy areas where appropriate (legislative, including impact assessment)
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