State of play
UNI Europa and Coiffure EU, the social partners in the hairdressing sector, have concluded a revised European Framework Agreement on the protection of occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector. In July 2016, they jointly requested the European Commission to submit the agreement to the Council for making it legally binding. While not changing the substance of the original agreement of April 2012, the new version takes account of concerns raised by the Commission. According to the Commission’s legal services, the revised agreement is now compatible with applicable European legislation.
During the ETUC Extraordinary Executive Committee meeting on 7 November 2016, EU Commission President Juncker was invited to discuss social Europe and the future of Europe generally. After being asked by the Regional Secretary, Juncker declared his opposition to the crucial health and safety agreement for the hairdressing sector. He insisted that health and safety is just “small stuff” and that our health and safety campaign is “propaganda”. He disparaged the agreement by incorrectly implying that it regulates high heel shoes, an image that was misused by the British tabloid press to discredit the EU and the European Commission in 2012. It is unfortunate that while strongly refuted by the Commission’s London office at the time, the high heels image was picked up as a slogan by President Barroso and now by President Juncker to characterise the agreement as red tape. The image is particularly derogatory towards women who compose the majority of the workforce in the sector.
In September, the Commission replied already evasively to the joint request by the social partners to receive information on the further modalities and timetable of the Commission’s decision-making process. Our concern is that the Commission continues to stall the process – altogether by over 4 years now.
On 21 November 2016, UNI Europa, ETUC and Coiffure EU sent a joint letter to the Commission. They requested that without further delay the Commission:
1) submits the agreement to the Council with a recommendation to adopt it.
2) fully informs the hairdressing social partners about the decision-making process, in particular regarding the different phases of the proportionate impact assessment process and the criteria for decision that the Commission will be using.
3) ensures that the two sectoral social partners are given the opportunity to comment on the result before the Commission takes its decision.
4) confirms that it will not use the impact assessment process, politically, to justify not referring the agreement to the Council for its implementing decision.
The hairdressing agreement is essentially about social partners exercising their role under the EU Treaty to improve health and safety protection for over a million workers throughout the EU. However, the Commission’s approach to the agreement made it a principle issue for the entire trade union movement. It puts into question the autonomy of the social partners. It also could set a precedent that the Commission has the power to deny such a request for other reasons than substantial and objective ones for not using legislation. Indeed, for the European trade union movement, the Commission’s conduct towards the agreement is a test on their willingness to build a social Europe and a European pillar of social rights that meets the concerns of workers and trade unions.
In October 2013, the UNI Europa Management Committee adopted a Statement on “The Unprecedented Attack of the European Commission on Social Dialogue and Social Europe”; it identified this matter as the main priority for all parts of UNI Europa.
Making the Agreement legally binding remains a priority for UNI Europa as a whole. Over the next weeks and months, we will exert pressure on the European institutions, but also engage with affiliates to rally support of national governments, in particular those who have expressed their opposition to the agreement (UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Estonia and Croatia).