Last Chance Social Europe?

Thursday 11 February 2016

By Christina J. Colclough, Head of EU Affairs

Let’s face it, the European Commission, which came to office under the President’s warning that this is the Commission of the Last Chance, has little – if any – interest in strengthening worker’s rights in Europe. Indeed, roughly 5 months into their term, the First Vice-President of the Commission actually stood in a room full of over 100 European socialists, and answered to my question on what the Commission’s social policies will be, the following:

“It would be very rude to slag off a previous Commission in public, so I won’t. But let me say this. My Better Regulation package will not include anything social, or anything environmental”.

I guess his political priorities couldn’t be expressed more clearly. Shocking was though, that the room clapped.

Since then, things haven’t got much better. With a looming Brexit threat, it has become clear that we should not expect any social or labour market policies to be initiated or passed before the British referendum. In addition, in the legislative proposals that will have a lot of influence on the workers in our sectors, very little is mentioned about workers’ rights, quality jobs and a fair, just transition to the digital economy. Just have a look at the digital single market proposal, where the post and logistics sectors will be heavily influenced, or the Single Market for Services, where all of us engaged in e-commerce of any kind will be highly effected. The influence of these initiatives on the type of work offered, the conditions surrounding that work, and ultimately the “cost” of that work are not mentioned with one single word.

So what does this actually mean to us? We need to influence the EU Commission, the European Parliament but also the national ministers in the Council to start including social and labour market affairs in the, what is vastly pro-industry, legislation they are working on. We also need to continue to discuss, highlight, flag and even remind the European institutions that quality jobs and decent, fair working conditions cannot and must not be regarded as a burden on companies. Unfortunately, it seems that the majority seem to think so.

In other words, we need to lobby for what is not being dealt with, just as much as we need to lobby on what is being dealt with. This requires that we are smart in how we do things. In previous times, members of the European Parliament would meet us, and listen to us, just because we are trade unionists. It’s not like that anymore. Now we need to have facts and figures, analyses and data to gain influence. We need to prove that things will get worse, that the market will suffer, or that the Commission’s proposals will provide short-term gains but long-term losses, before our concerns are heard. Or we need to gain strength in numbers: build alliances with the wider trade union movement, but also with civil society, environmental and consumer organisations. The more we are who demand the same, the louder our voices will be. And we need to be smart: For every trade union lobbyist, there are 65 industry lobbyists. For every time the Commission has meet one of us, they have meet industry 9 times more often. BusinessEurope, the European federation for employers’ federations spends roughly 4.3 million euros per year on lobbying alone. We are up against the titans.

Our answer is to play it smart. UNI Europa took the initiative to form the Better Regulation Watchdog, which now unites 66 organisations from 18 different countries. Our joint aim is to make sure that the Commission’s Better Regulation agenda, is Better for All, not just for businesses. We have had great success and exerted a substantial influence on what will become the new cooperation agreement between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council (the inter-institutional agreement). Our sectors work with a wide range of stakeholders through for example, FinanceWatch, the European Sunday Alliance and the European Arts and Entertainments Alliance. All these alliances serve to multiply our voice.

You may well by now be asking yourself, wouldn’t it be much easier without the EU? The short answer is a sounding no. Can you imagine the situation where the countries in Europe were in competition against one another for businesses? What would happen to tax levels, social security rights, wage levels? Countries would do all they could to drop the price of running a business, which would lead to a fierce race to the bottom in our working conditions and pay.

So, we are better off working together and united lift the conditions for the workers in our sectors in all of our countries. The hub for that is Brussels. Let’s do all we can to turn the tide and safeguard Social Europe.

Come to Rome and discuss with us what we are doing, what we should do and not least how!