European services: The backbone of Europe’s economy

Monday 1 February 2016

By Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary

Services are the backbone of European economic and social life. The EU’s economy (which is the world’s largest) is measured in terms of the goods and services it produces (GDP). A common vision for the future of services in Europe is therefore crucial to ensure healthy, happy workers and a fair, well-functioning economy.

The world of work is changing at high speed. Anti-trade unionism is on the rise across the continent, both in the form of national policies in countries such as Finland and the UK, and through the increasingly neoliberal agenda of the European Commission.

At the European level, the European Commission’s “Better Regulation Agenda” places human, environmental and social rights a far second to unrestrained competition and trade. Through delays and inaction on the Commission’s side new challenges for Social Partners arise to exert their right to shape legislation through common agreements in European Social Dialogue, as stated in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

On a national level, some governments are pushing policies that endanger fundamental rights such as collective bargaining and the right to strike.

Non-traditional work is on the rise. New technology is continually being developed, changing our work and workplaces with it. As services flow freely across borders, society has to react to these changes on a European level, in real-time, not Brussels time whose clocks are known to tick slowly. We have to be able to adapt to changes of the labour market quickly and efficiently to make sure that workers are protected and our social and environmental standards are not compromised. It is evident that unions and employers in a coordinated approach are best placed to find solutions for the challenges ahead as they are most directly faced with the consequences and changes.

With digitalisation, we are seeing more (bogus) self-employment in our sectors, increased individualisation and inequality between workers, as well as a lowering of social standards.

Our vision is a European society with quality jobs, competitive, quality services and a sustainable economy. A society where all types of workers, freelance or traditional, are organised and enjoy social rights and high labour standards – wherever their workplace, whatever it looks like.