Just 10 days after Gothenburg, Commission is pouring cold water on Pillar Social Rights

EPSU Executive Cttee 28-29 November 2017

(4 December 2017) Europe’s public service union leaders discussed the follow up to the pillar of social rights with the chef of the cabinet of EU Social Affairs Commissioner Thyssen who could not make herself available. Mrs. Bernaerts presented the work that is being done, the relaunch of the social dialogue in the context of the EU semester, the legislative and other initiatives taken and what is still to be expected. Social issues are on the agenda. The union leaders evaluated the steps that have been taken and outlined a number of issues that give another reality for workers. The pillar as such has not yet provided new rights. It can be used as a benchmark for workers in public services but the actual workplace situation is that millions have seen wages frozen for years and are losing purchasing power. The union leaders noted that signals have been contradictory with another Commissioner attacking the right to strike for air-traffic controllers (and being supported by the whole of the Commission). Public investment is still declining due to austerity measures. The Juncker plan investment plan is used to promote the private sector in public services. Yet another Commissioner pursues research that should help to privatise public companies. It does so with the help of a company that promotes and lobbies for tax avoidance. The first ever successful European Citizens’ Initiative right2water has not been implemented yet in EU legislation despite support of the EU Commission President. And to make matters worse, union leaders were given the impression that the European Commission is opposed to bringing forward a social partner agreement between the unions and employers in central government administrations to the Council as TFEU article 155.2 provides for. Close to 10 million workers in central government administrations  would be covered according to a recent European study backed by the Commission itself.

In her speech, the  Commission announced that it will take a decision soon on the Agreement. The Agreement has much value in itself and that article 155.2 does not imply automaticity. A number of tests must be passed regarding  legality, subsidiarity and proportionality.  Union leaders welcomed the imminence of a decision after almost two years since the  adoption of the Agreement.  Reading between the lines,  however, it is  unlikely that a positive decision will be taken. Union leaders underlined  the lack of transparency and clarity on the EC decision-making process and that the text had been negotiated with the employers and support of the Commission in the expectation that it would be transposed in EU legislation. One of the key objectives is to close a gap in EU legislation that does not provide for minimum standards on information and consultation rights for central government workers in a similar manner as for those in the private sector. Union leaders underlined that it will not be acceptable if the Commission reserves itself the right to be the judge on social partner agreements.  They wondered how the European Pillar of Social Rights can be effective if it is built on sand. It upsets the balance in the Treaties achieved with article 153-155 which allow social partners to be co-legislators.  A point that was made by MEPs such as Agnes Jongerius during the Gothenbug summit. The credibility of the Commission is at stake in a context in which support for the European Union can no longer be taken for granted. Many felt that the attitude of the Commission flies in the face of the spirit of the relaunch of social dialogue. The EPSU Executive will work for a yes decision but at the same time  will prepare for a No and take the necessary steps in that regard.

Other issues discussed by Members of the Executive:

  • A first concept note for the next EPSU Congress was considered. It will be structured around the future of public services, the future of work in public services and the future of the unions in public services. Social dialogue, developing and financing the welfare state and taking account of developments in non-EU European countries were raised. Representatives for the committees that prepare congress were approved. A representative of the youth network will join the resolutions committee. It approved the method to achieve gender parity in Congress. Upon registration delegations not in order will not be accepted.
  • Representatives of the youth network will participate in the Executive Committee. It changed its rules to ensure their voice is heard and taken into account.
  • EPSU calls for active participation in International Women’s Day 2018. Women can not wait another 200 years for gender equality, or work 2 ½ months a year for free due to the persistent gender pay gap. And with the gender pay gap growing and funds for public services being cut workers feel that government have breached the contract with women. EPSU will respond to the recent proposals of the Commission on how to close the gender pay gap.  
  • The role and input of the unions in the European Parliament elections of 2019, and what kind of initiatives could be taken to defend workers’ rights and public services.
  • Economic governance and the Annual growth survey of the Commission  
  • ETUC pay rise campaign  
  • The European Pillar of Social Rights and the follow up to it. Words and intentions are not enough as the Commission is showing time and again it can not be relied upon to defend workers’ interests.
  • EPSU’s legal fund was opened to support legal assistance to prepare a defense of agreements to which EPSU is a party and against European institutions that violate good public administration and Treaty obligations
  • EPSU’s work on tax justice and European initiatives. EPSU urges the European Parliament to set up an inquiry committee on the Paradise Papers
  • Working time, the working time directive and the Commission’s approach in a recent Communication. Captured by business interests the Commission continues to push for more flexibility and refuses to argue for better standards, less working time and ending zero-hour contracts.
  • The work of the sectoral committees in health and social services, local and regional government, national and European administration and the utilities was supported. Results of the work in the social dialogue committees was agreed. 
  • The Executive approved the affiliation of the Italian union UIL FPL. The union organizes workers in local government, several agencies and related services, in public and private health and social care and more.
  • Reports were received from the PSI Congress and the work planned between EPSU and PSI covering migration, tax justice and trade.
  • The 2017 Mid-term budget and 2018 draft budget were approved.

The EPSU Executive was the platform to launch the book on the 40 years - history of the Federation. It is now available online  

For previous reports of the Executive Committee

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