Juncker, it’s time to talk about a services policy

Wednesday 18 October 2017

While UNI Europa welcomes Juncker’s renewed enthusiasm for industrial policy, it is critical that Juncker also addresses a comprehensive services policy. People across Europe expect and deserve high quality services, and European businesses also rely on innovative services solutions to succeed in global markets. Therefore, a competitive European Union that caters for a high quality of life for its citizens needs a services industry that can master this challenge.

UNI Europa gave a cautious welcome to several components of Juncker’s State of the Union speech on 13th September, such as calling for the end of social dumping, equal treatment of posted workers, the establishment of a European Labour Authority and a renewed industrial policy. However, not only is Juncker yet to implement any concrete action plans to backup his initiatives, but he has failed to pledge any direct support for the services industry. The service sector accounts for more than 70% of the European Union’s output and jobs, which makes up the largest component of the EU’s economy. The future growth path and overall development of the economy and labour markets depends on its health.

We demand:

  1. The development of a comprehensive EU services policy because a competitive and social Europe needs a clear strategy for services.
  2. A European Investment Plan because investing in skills and a modern services infrastructure will turn the services industry into a driver of sustainable growth and job creation.
  3. Social dialogue in services because social partners know best how to deal with the challenges of the future in their sectors.
  4. Sectoral collective bargaining, workers’ rights and effective employment protection legislation because workers need effective safeguards against precarious working conditions in services.
  5. European legislation that promotes health and safety at work in services because a social Europe does not treat worker safety as red tape.
  6. Strong European cooperation for skills and lifelong learning in services because well-trained workers are the strongest asset of an innovative services industry.
  7. EU policies that acknowledge common interests of customers and service workers because customers only get a good deal when workers can focus on their clients’ needs.
  8. A consistently regulated European single market for quality services that impedes social dumping and protects services of general interest.
  9. International trade agreements that are negotiated transparently and improve working conditions worldwide because international trade must not compromise social progress.
  10. Services research that is sufficientlyfunded and geared towards the needs of practitioners because scientific evidence is crucial to improve the governance of services in Europe.

A key area where a comprehensive services policy would help the lives of citizens and workers is the issue of occupational health and safety. Article 155 TFEU enables sectoral social partners to reach agreements and to request their legal implementation by a Council decision. Agreements reached by representative European social partners at sectoral social dialogue level can, if implemented, bring to the fore specific concerns of sectoral social partners and result in effective action at European level.

The Hairdressing Sector is a clear example of this. Hairdressers experience among the highest rates of occupational skin diseases (for example, eczema and dermatitis), bladder cancer, and musculoskeletal disorders. Since 2012 and again from 2016 onwards, the European Commission refuses to put forward to Council for its implementing decision the signed framework agreement on occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector. The agreement was purpose-built to reduce the enumerated risks.

The refusal of the European Commission constitutes an unprecedented attack on health and safety legislation for hairdressers and the autonomy of social partners. Workers, social security systems, and hairdressing salon owners could benefit from measures that prevent sick leave and expensive medical treatments. The refusal to put forward the agreement for its implementation is unjustified, incomprehensible and constitutes a trend in relation to social partner agreements that needs to be reversed.

We are convinced that social dialogue – whether sectoral or cross industry – can play a complementary role in implementing a European occupational health and safety strategy. Nonetheless, our experience with the European agreement in the hairdressing sector is an obvious example where the Commission unjustifiably delays the implementation of the agreement via a directive. As sectoral social partners, we will await the decision of the Commission services to implement the hairdressing occupational health and safety agreement pursuant to Article 155 TFEU before we express our support to launching further negotiations in the framework of social dialogue, be it horizontal or sectoral.

Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary, believes that ‘as the majority of Europe’s workforce are in the service sector, we need a joint effort by stakeholders, governments, companies and trade unions to ensure that there is a common strategy for the services sector. The digital revolution is also changing working conditions and the service market, for the good and for the bad. We need to ensure that the future service sector is characterised by inclusion, empowerment and cohesion across geographical spaces, citizens and workers.’