Last week’s State of the European Union speech by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was disappointing. Not only did it lack a commitment to increase public investment for public services to implement in the European Pillar of Social Rights, but it contained dangerous deregulatory proposals. If the Commission moves to reduce “burdens” on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) then one of the first victims could be health and safety, followed by gender pay transparency. Do we really need an SME envoy when there is already a European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency, with the latter promoting the interests of SME through its programmes and grants. Indeed, the Commission actually wants to increase regulatory burdens by re-igniting the competitiveness test. Rather than focus on deregulation and competitiveness, the Commission should start with ensuring that its work contributes to realising the European Pillar of Social Rights, strengthen collective bargaining and assists in achieving the goals of the Protocol on Public services.
On a more positive note, Von der Leyen did use her speech to celebrate some Commission achievements, including the Adequate Minimum Wage (AMWD) and the Gender Pay Transparency Directives. Absolutely! The AMWD was an issue at the congress of our main German affiliate, ver.di, earlier this week where delegates discussed how to use it to boost collective bargaining coverage and reach the 80% threshold. However, it is disappointing that von der Leyen failed to propose any measures to ensure that no public contracts are awarded to employers where there is no collective agreement, one of the best ways to increase coverage.
Of the many other issues covered in the speech, I want to mention two in particular – the European Political Community and the European Social Dialogue Summit.
European Political Community – an unwanted distraction
Whereas offering a clear perspective to the candidate countries for joining the EU is welcome, the Commission continues to promote the European Political Community, something also proposed by the governments of Germany and France in a paper to reform the EU. The idea is that it creates of community of European countries including the UK, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and others that are not EU Members but with whom the EU needs to work. I have said before that this is a bad idea, that distracts from and undermines existing European structures like the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. And in terms of assisting in finding diplomatic solutions for conflict, the recent military operation of Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh shows the limits and failure as the EU’s dependency on fossil fuels is ruthlessly exploited.
European Social Dialogue Summit – don’t ignore the sectors
The aim of the proposed European Social Dialogue Summit under the Belgian Presidency is to relaunch the social dialogue, give new impetus to the negotiations between EU employers and trade unions and have a common social agenda. As trade unions in the ETUC we will have to be clear in our demands and demand a clear articulation between cross-sectoral and sectoral level EU level agreements.
The European Commission is currently blocking our agreement on digitalisation with the Central Government Administration employers because there are ongoing negotiations on telework at cross-sector level. This is depriving millions of workers of the benefits of a progressive agreement. The summit will be a failure if it doesn’t produce a clear understanding of how the Commission deals with social partner agreements, including those at sectoral level. This means that the sector-level social dialogue and the 44 sector social dialogue committees must play a leading role.
It is in the sectors that employers and unions address how to deliver the quality jobs that are needed to attract workers and tackle staffing shortages. Take the care sector. Why would you want to work in a sector that pays low wages, has precarious working conditions, has many employers that do not recognise unions and do not engage in collective bargaining? So quality jobs are the answer. Will the employers commit with us to a broad programme to achieve that and improve rights for worker? Employers need to stop condoning union-busting companies in their ranks. As the German minister for labour said at the ver.di congress: Union busting is a crime. It must be prosecuted