State of the EU – what’s new for service workers?

State of the EU – what’s new for service workers?


While President von der Leyen mentioned a number of laudable objectives that would have a direct impact on service sector workers, UNI Europa’s first analysis highlights two major shortfalls.

Firstly, where new measure are targeted at workers, there was no mention of how to guarantee their inclusion. Whether it be on efforts to better resource care workers, or build digital skills among the workforce, there was a telling lack of mention of how they would be involved.

Secondly, workers issues have taken a back seat. While in previous speeches, President von der Leyen has professed a commitment to social dialogue and collective bargaining, this was a notably absent this time around. Meanwhile the mention of reforms towards a more social EU were markedly timid.

Care workers

We will come forward with a new European Care Strategy to support men and women in finding the best care and the best life balance for them,” announced President von der Leyen (page 7). A renewed focus on care is indeed vital and we welcome the commitment to funding it through fairer taxation.

However, the quality and safety of the care our elderly and vulnerable receive cannot be decoupled from the conditions of care workers. A strong collective say is vital for workers to lastingly secure decent conditions in which they are both safe and free of the stress induced by understaffing and low pay that is widespread in the sector. These workers need decent pay that reflects their contribution to society.

If this initiative is to successfully reach working people who have been on the frontline of the pandemic, the EU needs to present concrete steps to increase collective bargaining coverage across the care sector.

UNI Europa will continue supporting care workers across the EU, ensuring better pay, working conditions and collective bargaining. UNI Care is leading the RETAIN project, a pioneer project focusing on the burning issues of labour shortages and high labour turnover in the care sector. These have worsened during the Covid-19 crisis, with labour shortages reaching all time high and many workers wanting to leave the sector due to burnout and poor working conditions.

If we do not deal with this problem immediately, the quality provision of care services in the EU will be made impossible. The RETAIN project gathers employers, civil society organizations, investors and trade unions, all committed to finding solutions to the burning issues of labour shortages and high turnover in the care sector.

Digital skills

Speaking of the NextGenerationEU recovery fund, President von der Leyen outlined the need for investment towards the digital transformation (pages 5 & 6). Promisingly, the need for investment in infrastructure and in digital skills were put on the same level. Indeed, over half the workforce will require digital upskilling by 2025. If the EU is to ensure these people are reached, they must ensure  upskilling efforts are designed and delivered with workers’ collective involvement.

Together with ETNO, UNI Europa is involved in Digital Upskilling For All, a project exploring best practice on digital upskilling in the telecoms sector (latest information on that here). In addition, UNI Europa has conducted in-depth research into trade union activities on lifelong learning. The mounting body of evidence is clear: if digital upskilling initiatives are to deliver the right skills to the right people, best practice is for social partners to design and implement the training together. The European Commission must heed this in the design of their fund criteria.

Core trade union agenda

President von der Leyen further recognised the efforts and struggles of essential workers, she stated “…we relied on all those women and men who work for lower wages, fewer protections and less security.” To which she points to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights as being necessary to ensure decent jobs, fairer working conditions, better healthcare and better balance in people’s lives. UNI Europa has been calling for the EU to take a more active role in promoting democracy at work as well as establishing institutional avenues for workers’ interests to shape EU law- and policy-making. Specifically, this requires that the EU Commission take an active role in promoting collective bargaining in Europe.

Beyond that, President von der Leyen somewhat cryptically alluded to other ongoing legislative initiatives on which UNI is working. The ongoing work Digital Services and Market Acts was referred by recommitting to “contain the gatekeeper power of major platforms” and “underpin the democratic responsibility of those platforms” (page 15). Work towards EU legislation mandatory human rights due diligence was seemingly reduced to excluding forced labour products from the EU (page 15).

What we still want to see:

The European public rank their most important assets of the EU as ‘democracy, human rights and rule of law’ and ‘standard of living’. The ability of working people to have a say over the decisions that shape their working lives is a fundamental part of that.


UNI Europa wants to see the Commission President advance on a prosperous, sustainable and social Europe:

  1. Public procurement – No public contract for companies without collective agreement: Changing EU public procurement rules to provide a European framework that is conducive to ensure this objective. Every worker, working under any public contract, should be covered by the applicable collective agreements in the relevant sector and region according to national law and practice.
  2. Amazon: Pushing Amazon to engage in collective bargaining, respect workers’ rights and accept the European social model. We will do so by influencing EU regulatory action to close loopholes Amazon uses to suppress workers, fight trade unions and gain unfair competitive advantages. This is embedded in the broader activities of UNI Global in terms of organising, corporate campaigning and lobbying.
  3. EU legislation and policies: Influencing EU action with the aim to enlarge both the coverage and scope of collective bargaining. Key areas include digitalisation and AI, the status of self-employed, remote work and upskilling; equal pay; company restructuring and human rights due diligence; as well as industrial policy, the internal market and climate change.
  4. Social dialogue: Building EU sectoral social dialogue so that it is at the centre of EU activities and whose outcome is meaningful for collective bargaining at national level. One aim is to ensure that sectoral social partners are included from the inception state in the EU policymaking process. Another one is to further develop joint activities of the services sectoral social dialogues.

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