Bringing Social Europe from Junk Status to AAA – Starting Now

Today the European Pillar of Social Rights – a set of twenty principles putting social concerns on top of the political agenda – was proclaimed by the European Commission, the EU member states and the European Parliament.

UNI Europa welcomes the pillar as a renewal of the EU’s commitment to a social Europe. For too long, Europe has drifted in the wrong direction. The Social Pillar means going back to square one: we must ensure that, from now on, social rights are not trumped by economic rights.

Today, too many citizens perceive the EU to be undermining their chances of achieving better working and living conditions. The Social Pillar must regain the confidence of workers, which are the majority of Europe’s citizens. What we need is concrete change that clearly proves that the EU and the Single Market works for everyone.

The Social Pillar by itself does not do this – it merely restates the status quo of a social Europe with all its limitations. First of all, therefore, the Social Pillar’s proclamation needs to be immediately turned into implementation. We need to see a detailed action plan featuring tangible steps on how we achieve what the Pillar describes and what the citizens of Europe desire. What we need is a new social action programme at EU level complemented by programmes in each member state setting out concrete policy initiatives and legislation.

At the centre must be a commitment to decent working and living conditions, as well as the redesign of the Single Market so that it does not destabilise workers’ rights and industrial relations at national level.  For that to happen, we need a Social Progress Protocol as quickly as possible. We must stop economic rules having priority over social rights.

We need a clear commitment of the EU institutions and the member states to promote social dialogue and collective bargaining. Sectoral collective bargaining in particular, is a key measure for bringing back equality in our societies and ensuring the competitiveness of our economies.

We need to start now.

By early next year, the EU institutions and member states must:

1)        Ensure that the forthcoming proposals on a revision of the Written Statement Directive and on universal access to social protection focus on actually strengthening the protection of all workers, especially those in precarious jobs, whether employed or self-employed.

2)         Scrap the proposal on the services e-card, a draft that is rejected by employers and trade unions of the sectors most affected – construction and cleaning – and needs to be sent back to the drawing board.

3)         Transform the social partner agreements for hairdressers and central government administration into law. We want a clear commitment by the Commission that it does not seek the power to stop agreements based on its political views but to promote social dialogue in a spirit of subsidiarity.

4)         Commit resources for the capacity building of social dialogue, in particular in Central and Eastern Europe, for instance by making ESF funding available for European social partners for projects in member states.

5)         Bring forward a real ‘European Services Package’ with legislation that strives to improve the internal market for services so that it neither fosters social dumping across borders nor undermines collective and individual workers’ rights and standards. Equal pay, conditions and representation for equal work in the same place must be a guiding principle.

In an era of cruel austerity and “Europe Fatigue”, these points must be tackled immediately. Building a real Social Europe will take longer and requires the EU institutions to put into practice the ten building blocks put forth by the European trade union movement. We want the European Commission and the member states to be ambitious. We need to be thorough and we need to start now. Europe and its workers can’t wait.

A European Union that keeps its promises is a European Union that speaks to and earns the trust of its citizens. This is why we need to keep a watchful eye over the future of the Social Pillar, and the very future of Europe itself.

Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary