As Juncker sets sail towards a more social Europe, trade unions keep watch in unsure waters

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Today, against the backdrop of Brexit, the refugee crisis and rising populism, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, gave his State of the European Union address for 2017.

In a speech heavy with marine metaphors symbolising forward thinking, progression and ambition, Juncker touched on many issues close to the trade union heart. However, there were gaping holes in Juncker’s speech which failed to bind promise and action together. Without concrete action plans outlining a clear and inescapable commitment to social issues, is Juncker all bark and no bite?

As the clock is ticking towards the end of his mandate, UNI Europa calls for the urgent need for the Commission to commit to the Social Progress Protocol for the next round of treaty changes. This protocol would clearly state that economic freedoms cannot take precedence over fundamental social rights, as, as Juncker highlighted, the EU’s main objective is to improve the living and working conditions of its citizens.

Essential for a social Europe is a well-functioning social dialogue. The Commission needs to make a clear commitment to facilitate and support the conclusion of social partner agreements and a similar strong commitment to forward these swiftly to the Council for implementation. First in line is the rapid endorsement of the hairdressers social partner agreement to put an end, once and for all, to the scandalous working practices of hairdressers.

The Commission also needs to strengthen sectoral collective bargaining rights across Europe, which have been substantially diluted and attacked by the EU since the financial crisis. If Juncker is as serious about workers as his speech suggests, then he would use the latter part of his mandate to strengthen collective bargaining where it exists, re-establish it where it has been dismantled and create it where it is yet to exist in order to push for wage increases across Europe.

Juncker made the call for all Member States to agree to the European Pillar of Social Rights by the European Social Summit on 17th November 2017. However, just to say that the Pillar of Social Rights needs to be implemented and adopted by all Member States is not enough. Juncker failed to announce an action plan when one is critically needed. UNI Europa will continue to demand an action plan with concrete proposals to become law before the next European Parliament elections.

Juncker reinforced the pledge for new opportunities and the potential for jobs and growth, whilst emphasising that unemployment in Europe is at a nine year low, with eight million new jobs created since the beginning of the mandate in 2014. However, we must remain vigilant that any new jobs are not low paid, zero hours or precarious with few employment rights. Each and every worker deserves to have secure and stable employment. We must also pay attention to the number of jobs and skills that have disappeared due to the digitalisation of labour. The EU must seek to replace these jobs and reskill workers for the future world of work.

Juncker made a welcome reference to the equal treatment of posted workers and the end of social dumping. UNI Europa welcomes equal standards to ensure the fair and equal treatment of workers and calls upon Juncker to swiftly implement legislation to solidify this.

The establishment of a European Labour Authority to ensure and protect the rights of workers, in the same way that the European Banking Authority protects the financial sector, is a positive move. UNI Europa strongly supports more rigorous rules to counteract labour abuses provided that they are enforced in a fair and effective way, and put workers’ rights first. Trade unions must be on the governing body and be involved in the ELA’s enforcement role.

UNI Europa welcomes Juncker’s proposal for a sixth scenario on the future of Europe, a proposal that we have actively campaigned for. However, the Commission has for too long been too weak on social matters. For the European Union to truly ‘raise anchor, catch the wind and set sail’ as Juncker suggests, the backbone to all future legislative proposals must have a social dimension rooted in equality, rights and fairness with strong trade union rights, otherwise the European Union will be navigating unsure waters.

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