On 14th January 2020, the EU Commission presented a communication on creating a strong social Europe for a just transition. Also launched on this day was the initial phase of the social partner consultation on the issue of fair minimum wages.
The new communication of the Commission explains how social policy should contribute to meeting the current challenges. At the presentation of the communication, Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, pointed out that Europe’s innovative and inclusive social market economy had to focus on people; he also addressed the necessity of decent incomes and high-quality jobs. A public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), which will run until November will be started and an action plan has been announced for 2021.
The annex of the Communication names planned Commission initiatives on strengthening the social Europe for 2020 and 2021. Apart from the initiatives mentioned below, there are also planned measures on the Green Deal, the Digital Services Act as well as on industry policy and SME strategy, where apparently the EPSR shall also have a greater impact:
- Initial phase of the social partner consultation for fair minimum wages
- European gender equality strategy and measures for binding pay transparency
- Updated competence agenda for Europe
- Demography report
- Enhanced Youth Guarantee
- Updated action plan on digital education
- Summit on the issue of platform work
- European Education Area
- Green Paper on the issue of ageing
- European Plan to fight cancer
- Initiative on Roma equality and inclusion
- European unemployment insurance scheme
- Action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights
- Guarantee against child poverty
- Action plan for the social economy
- Disability Strategy
- Long-term social perspective for rural areas
From AK’s point of view, many political orientations in the new Commission communication have to be welcomed, for example the focus on social justice as the foundation of the European social market economy as well as wellbeing and highest standards of living as targets. In addition, the UN targets on sustainable development have been emphasised as a key orientation.
This target representation is significantly different from the EU’s political orientation from 2010, when EU policy was primarily orientated towards a restrictive austerity policy and pressure towards weakening labour laws and pay restraint. The new orientation includes steps in the right direction, which are welcomed by AK. However, they must also be reflected in ambitious measures and must not be allowed to be beset with contradictions.
In AK’s opinion, important projects for a social Europe are still missing on the list of future proposals, such as EU minimum standards in unemployment insurance, an EU Framework Directive with minimum standards for national social minimum incomes, the implementation of the Golden Rule for public investments or a Pact for Social Progress. Also of fundamental significance would be a course correction regarding the pension policy orientation of the EU towards strengthening public, solidarity pension schemes.
Social partner consultation on minimum wages
To begin with, the new Consultation paper of the Commission on minimum wages establishes that minimum wages are important and points towards the problem of rising poverty in spite of gainful employment and growing pay inequalities in the EU. Particularly affected are often women, workers with a lower level of education, people on atypical contracts as well as the services sector. Against this background, the EU Commission regards an EU initiative on fair minimum wages as necessary. So far, more detailed contents is not yet available and the question, which legal form the initiative should have, is also still open. However, the initial phase of the social partner consultation has now been started in a first step.
ÖGB President Wolfgang Katzian welcomed the foray of the EU; he did, however, point out that the paper did not give enough weight to the key significance of collective agreements and strong collective agreement systems. He also referred to the red lines of the trade unions: for example, the European Court of Justice must not be able to interfere in national collective agreement systems by the backdoor.