Building a fair and sustainable social market economy in Europe have always been key priorities for the European Commission. However, despite the improvements in economic and social dimensions across the Union, the EU still faces societal and labour market challenges not only due to the economic crisis, but also due to globalisation, digitalisation and demographic change.
In view of this, and after being announced by President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2015, the European Commission has recently published the ‘Pillar of Social Rights’. The ‘Pillar of Social Rights’ offers an opportunity to address the aforementioned challenges by ensuring better working and living conditions across the Union.
Essentially, the Pillar puts forward several key principles and rights which intend to address gaps in existing EU social and employment acquis. These principles and rights are categorised into three:
- Equal opportunities and access to labour market;
- Fair working conditions; and
- Social protection an inclusion.
The most prominent proposals include the right to life-long learning, protection against abrupt dismissal, a proposal for a work-life balance of parents and carers, flexible work regimes for parents with children under 12 years old, and fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living. According to the proposal tabled by the European Commission, fathers of new-borns will get 10 days’ parental leave, paid at sick benefit rates. Five days of carers’ leave per year will also be granted to workers in the EU to take care of dependent relatives.
The Pillar contains both legislative and non-legislative initiatives, therefore a number of principles and rights enshrined in the Pillar will require further legislative initiatives to become effective. Moreover, where needed, existing EU law will be updated, complemented and better enforced. The European funds, in particularly the European Social Fund, will also provide financial support to implement many key aspects of the Pillar.
Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen described the Social Pillar as “a compass for a renewed process of convergence towards better living and working conditions” that would help the EU “avoid a race to the bottom and encourage a race to the top.” However, employers’ organisations such as BusinessEurope and UEAPME have condemned the new proposed rules.
In the words of BusinessEurope President, Emma Marcegaglia, the Social Pillar is an “ill-conceived legislation undermining job creation.” BusinessEurope have also criticised the Commission for undermining the so-called “social-dialogue” process, by saying that the Commission’s plan would repeal the 2010 agreement on parental leave struck between BusinessEurope and ETUC.
UEAPME believes that focus should be targeted towards better implementation and enforcement of the existing rule, instead of the creation of new ones. Furthermore, UEAPME strongly warns against the additional cost for companies created by the proposed compulsory payment for parental, paternity and care leave.
The European Commission will now enter discussion with the European Parliament and the European Council to work toward broad political support and high-level endorsement of the Pillar. President Jean-Claude Juncker said that he would like to see the Pillar endorsed at the highest political level before the end of 2017. The Social Summit, taking place in Sweden on 17th November 2017, is expected to pave the way forward.