On 6 October 2015, the College of Commissioners held an orientation debate on the economic and social dimension of the Single Market, discussing also for the first time the concept of the Pillar of Social Rights. A further orientation debate is foreseen later this month.
Why a European Pillar of Social Rights?
President Juncker announced the establishment of a "European Pillar of Social Rights" ("socle européen des droits sociaux") in his State of the Union address in the European Parliament on 9 September 2015: "We have to step up the work for a fair and truly pan-European labour market. (…) As part of these efforts, I will want to develop a European pillar of social rights, which takes account of the changing realities of the world of work. And which can serve as a compass for the renewed convergence within the euro area. The European pillar of social rights should complement what we have already jointly achieved when it comes to the protection of workers in the EU. I will expect social partners to play a central role in this process. I believe we do well to start with this initiative within the euro area, while allowing other EU Member States to join in if they want to do so."
What is the European Pillar of Social Rights?
The pillar of social rights should be a self-standing reference document, of a legal nature, setting out key principles and values shared at EU level. In turn, this could serve as a framework to screen employment and social performance in the light of changing work patterns and societies.
As a result, EU legislation may need to be updated or complemented to ensure common rules are up-to-date. For instance, occupational health and safety legislation, such as on the protection against carcinogens, are being reviewed with a view to modernising the EU framework in the light of new risks and realities. In areas where Member States are more directly competent, better exchange of good practice and benchmarking may help to foster upward convergence.
What has been done so far?
There is already a solid social "acquis" at EU level, some of which finds its roots in the early days of the European Economic Community. But as Europe emerges from one of its worst economic and social crises, time has come to establish a consolidated and clear set of social rights reflecting the realities of 21st century Europe.
A number of concrete initiatives have already been put forward during this mandate such as measures to fight youth unemployment, through the youth employment initiative, a recommendation on fighting long-term unemployment, a European Accessibility Act and more generally through giving greater prominence to social considerations in the coordination of economic policies done through the European Semester. Work is also underway in 2016 for a fresh start on work-life balance for working parents, for a European skills agenda and for a labour mobility package.
What are the next steps?
The College will come back to this initiative soon. A concrete outline of the European Pillar of Social Rights will be presented in the coming weeks and will be followed by a broad consultation to identify action at the appropriate level. The consultation should serve to refine the text of the Pillar and to identify the right areas of action – be it at the EU level or at the national level. Social partners will play a central role in this process, together with actors from civil society.
What is meant by social rights?
Various national, EU and international legal instruments, in particular ILO conventions, refer to the concept of "social rights". Such concepts or instruments typically comprise one or several of the following rights, essentially linked to the employment contract, working conditions or access to welfare, such as:
- Right to minimum pay;
- Minimum rights to representation;
- Minimum rights during probation periods;
- Minimum protection against unfair dismissal;
- Minimum measures to ensure awareness of rights and access to justice; and
- Right to equal treatment regardless of the type of employment contract.
- Minimum health and safety rights;
- Minimum working time protection rights;
- Access to provisions relating to maternity/paternity;
- Access to life-long learning and (re-)training;
- Access to provisions relating to childcare and benefits;
- Access to provisions relating to unemployment;
- Access to provisions relating to active inclusion;
- Access to provisions relating to pensions;
- Access to basic social services, including health care.
Is the Pillar for the EU as a whole or for the euro area only?
As indicated by President Juncker in his State of the Union address, the European Pillar of Social Rights is an initiative first and foremost conceived for the euro area, but other Member States should be allowed to join in if they want to do so.
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