The Commission has now published the results of its public consultation on the establishment of a European Pillar of Social Rights (the “Pillar”), along with its final proposal for the Pillar (C(2017) 2600 final) (the “Recommendation”). The Pillar sets out 20 key principles and rights in order to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems across the EU.
In its communication (COM(2017) 250 final) (the “Communication”), the Commission has stated that delivering on these principles is a joint responsibility, and that the EU can help by setting the framework, giving the direction, and establishing a level playing field across all Member States.
Despite recent improvements in economic and social conditions across Europe, the Commission recognises that there is still long-term unemployment and youth unemployment, as well as risks of poverty, in many parts of Europe. The Pillar is therefore concerned with delivering new and more effective rights for citizens in order to tackle these challenges.
During the consultation stage, four key priority trends emerged:
- The social consequences of the financial crisis;
- Technological progress and automation;
- Demographic developments (with the ageing of Europe’s population); and
- Economic divergence across Member States.
The Pillar was seen as an opportunity to deliver a more social Europe, and as a way of reconnecting with European citizens whilst addressing the key changes in the world of work and society more generally.
In their responses, some Member States (particularly Hungary, Poland, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom) supported the idea that non-Eurozone Member States should have the flexibility to choose whether to be part of the Pillar. However, other Member States felt that the Pillar should avoid creating gaps between the Member States in the Eurozone and other Member States, or cause uncertainty about the application of the social acquis.
In its Communication, the Commission has confirmed that the Pillar is primarily designed with members of the Eurozone in mind, but the Commission has stressed that it is available to all Member States of the EU who wish to be a part of it.
Some of the main conclusions that were drawn from the consultation (as identified by the Commission in its report) included:
- The EU social acquis is broadly relevant and well developed;
- However, there is significant scope for action to improve the implementation and enforcement of existing rights; and
- In addition, some gaps were identified in terms of coverage of all forms of work, and areas outside labour law.
In its Recommendation, the Commission has taken into account the responses to the public consultation. The Recommendation includes the final outline of the Pillar and is structured around three chapters:
- Equal opportunities and access to the labour market;
- Fair working conditions; and
- Social protection and inclusion.
Some of the key principles included in the Pillar are set out below:
Equal opportunities and access to the labour market
The Pillar highlights the need for lifelong learning, and that continued education is of importance in the fight against social exclusion in order to ensure that everyone is able to fully participate in society and the labour market.
The Pillar also identifies that gender equality must be ensured in the labour market, and that women and men have the right to equal pay for work of equal value. Additionally, the Pillar states that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and opportunities (in the labour market, education and social services) regardless of their gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation).
Fair working conditions
The Pillar ensures that, regardless of the nature of an employment relationship, all workers have the right to fair and equal treatment regarding their working conditions, access to social protection and training.
Additionally, the Pillar provides all workers with the right to fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living and seeks to ensure adequate minimum wages.
The Pillar also recognises the need of an appropriate work-life balance, and seeks to ensure the rights of workers who are parents, or who have caring responsibilities, to suitable leave, flexible working arrangements and access to care services. This principle applies equally to men and women, and gives workers the right to be entitled to special leaves of absence in order to fulfil their caring responsibilities.
Social protection and inclusion
The Pillar gives children the right to protection from poverty, and the right to affordable early education and care of good quality.
The Pillar also provides workers with the right to adequate social protection (regardless of the nature of their employment relationship). Additionally, the Pillar recognises that the unemployed have the right to adequate support from public authorities in order to reintegrate into the labour market, as well as the right to adequate unemployment benefits for a reasonable duration. The Pillar emphasises that these benefits should not be a disincentive for a quick return to employment.
The responses to the public consultation have confirmed that there is a shared need to act in order for Europe to achieve more inclusive economic growth and greater social inclusion. The Pillar addresses these challenges by setting out twenty principles which prioritise the rights of citizens and by establishing a joint direction to provide equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion.
The Commission has said it will continue to work closely with the European Parliament and the Council on the Pillar, and we await further developments concerning its implementation across the Member States.