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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Closing remarks by Marianne Thyssen at the High Level Conference "A New Start for Social dialogue"

Brussels, 05 March 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is truly a pleasure to see you all here together in Brussels and to witness the quality of today's discussions.

It is my honour to present to you some of the main elements discussed during the three workshops of the afternoon.

Let me start by saying that I am really convinced that there cannot be a social market economy without a well functioning social dialogue. Thirty years ago when the social dialogue was launched at Val Duchesse I was working for a social partner organisation myself and I know how well these organisations are embedded in the ecoomy and in the labour market. Their first hand understanding of social and economic dynamics is something we should cherish. I dont want to compare periods which cannot be compared but I see that difficult economic and social circumstances make it diffcult for social partners to agree but also increases the necessity for the social dialogue to move ahead.

Evidence shows that countries with strong social dialogue institutions are among the EU's best performing and most competitive economies, with a better and more resilient social situation.

You have the practical knowledge and expertise to find tailor made policy solutions which enhance competitiveness and ensure social fairness. I believe we should fully tap this potential at EU level.

This means in the first place that social partners are properly consulted on the relevant initiatives envisaged by the Commission.

On the one hand, this concerns the employment and social portfolio and the initiatives that I will be proposing as part of the Commission's work programme. Still before the summer the Commission will present an initiative aimed at the integration and employability of long term unemployed. In the second half of the year the Commission will come forward with an ambitious labour mobility package. On these initiatives, I look forward to a meaningful contribution from the social partners.

But also beyond the employment and social portfolio, this Commission is committed to increase the involvement of the social partners. This is for instance the case for the digital single market, which was discussed today, but also for other important issues such as trade, migration and transport. The invitation to social partners in the recent Framework Strategy on the Energy Union clearly demonstrates this commitment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All our Member States are faced with demographic and technological changes which have a profound impact on the economy and the labour market.

But education and training systems are often not sufficiently in tune with changing labour markets.

We know that 20% of Europeans have only basic literacy skills and 25% have only basic numeracy skills[1]. We also know that these kinds of basic skills are expected to suffice for only about 11% of jobs in 2025[2].

Indeed, high skill shortages coexist with unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment.

Social partners can help in improving transitions both from education to the labour market and between jobs and they are instrumental in developing work-based learning, as well as shaping sectoral and national skills development policies. I can assure you that at the Commission we do what we can to improve the transition from school to work and for young people to get a job. You all know about the Youth Guarantee which was developed by the social partners in certain Member States, it is now a European programme. You know that we have a special dedicated budget line for this and a few weeks ago we proposed a higher level of pre-financing for the Youth Employment Initiative. Normally we have a pre-financing level of 1-1,5% but for the Youth Employment Initiative we raised the level to 30% which means that we already have 1 billion euro available this year for those who help us in this difficult exercice.

Collective bargaining should focus on the improvement of the work organisation, job design and ensuring that learning opportunities exist at the workplace.

Continuous development of competencies and acquisition of qualifications are a shared interest and responsibility for employers and trade unions. Trade unions have a deep interest in employability. Employers need workers with the right skills to support innovation and productivity.

This leads me to the digital transformation of our societies. A digital single market calls for a radical up- and reskilling of the European workforce, across virtually all sectors. Today, 90% of jobs require some kind of digital skills, but half of the EU workforce has no or low ICT skills. Hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies requiring digital skills are reported not only in the ICT sector but across all economic sectors; but they are short in supply.

Social partners must work together with Member States and the Commission to develop a strategic response to the impact technology has on the different economic sectors in terms of emerging professions and business models.

One of the key questions will be how the burden is shared between employers and workers where it comes to paying the up- and reskilling required to maintain the employability of our workforce.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me finally turn to the sectoral social dialogue, where we can rely on the existing 43 sectoral dialogue committees covering 75 percent of the workforce. This is a significant asset. Over the past two decades we have seen several social partner agreements being implemented through EU legislation. They have all adapted EU legislation to the specificities of a certain issue or sector. The Commission remains fully committed to the autonomy of the social partners and will continue to support them in coming forward with agreements.

However, I believe that whatever form an initiative at EU level takes, it needs to be fit for purpose and balanced in terms of costs and benefits. This is the core of our better regulation agenda. Like for any legislative proposal it makes, the Commission assesses the appropriateness of social partners' agreements. The Commission will take concrete steps to clarify the way this is done.

I would invite social partners to also engage in this exercise. This includes the consideration how to ensure the representativeness of the signing parties and a solid evidence base for their agreements. It also inlcudes a better information flow from social partners to the Commission in the framework of the Commission's assessment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me finish by recalling that the Commission has the duty to promote the role of social partners at EU level and facilitate dialogue between them.

We want to give renewed substance to this duty. We are committed to enabling the social partners to contribute to the cornerstones of the EU policy agenda. Your contribution will be necessary to properly address the key challenges of our labour markets and economies.

It goes without saying that this counts especially for the area of employment, social affairs, labour mobility and skills, where I expect a strong and substantive contribution from you in the months to come. Let me now thank you for today's open and constructive discussions. I look forward to delivering on our enhanced cooperation.

[1]      The OECD's Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

[2]      CEDEFOP


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