Commission holds the cards: will it deal in favour of workers or business?

Monday, December 4, 2017

The final weeks of the year will be busy ones. We expect proposals from the European Commission to integrate the Fiscal Compact in EU legislation. Will it be used as an opportunity to give more teeth to the social pillar and provide a solid basis for making social progress in EU legislation? Or will it announce a regime of continued austerity? We should also find out what the European Commission will be offering workers regarding the revision of the written statement directive. Will it be a mere re-stating of rights, or will workers that are abused in zero-hour contracts, digital platforms, false self-employment and other modern forms of piece work get better protection? Next, the Commission should provide further details of its ideas for a European Labour Authority as Commission President Juncker announced in his State of the Union speech in September. Should employers that exploit loopholes in legislation in cross-border situations to exploit workers fear it? Or will it be a joke, victim of corporate capture and the Commission’s Better Regulation agenda?

In this regard, the establishment of the new Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and "Doing Less More Efficiently has not received much attention. Behind the nice words, the aim is to return tasks and power to Member States. It reads like another instrument to make social legislation more difficult, leaving behind a European Union that is based only on the internal market and an economic straightjacket. This taskforce starts its work on 1 January 2018. A negative reading of the Better Regulation and Fitness checks agenda and now this initiative is that they will be used to assist in killing off the role of trade unions and employers as co-legislators provided for in articles 153-155 of the Treaty.

For EPSU, the way the Commission deals with the agreement on information and consultation rights for nearly 10 million public administration workers is a test for social Europe. On 28 November, Inge Bernaerts, head of Cabinet of EU Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen addressed the EPSU Executive Committee. It is already two years since the agreement was reached but she admitted that there still is no decision on implementing the agreement through a directive. More ominous is that the Commission indicated that it reserves itself the right to judge whether or not the agreement will actually be forwarded to the Council as requested by the social partners. This will hollow out the Treaty and the unique role given to the social partners. The EPSU Executive supported an earlier decision of the ETUC that this will not be acceptable and we are exploring what further steps can be taken if this where to happen.

The European Commission can use these final weeks of the year to make the difference for workers and the future of the European Union. Or it can confirm that it has become an instrument of the business interests and political elites that pursue their agendas behind the fine words of Gothenburg. It holds the cards.