European Pillar of Social Rights and accompanying initiatives: CESI leadership expresses cautious optimism

Today, the European Commission presented a long-awaited set of measures to improve the EU’s social dimension. Under the heading ‘European Pillar of Social Rights and accompanying initiatives’, the European Commission issued 20 principles to guide the future of employment and social affairs. While these principles are not legally binding or directly enforceable targets, there are a number of accompanying legislative proposals, most notably in the area of work-life balance. In a first reaction, the CESI leadership expressed cautious optimism about the European Commission’s proposals.

The European Pillar of Social Rights encompasses 20 principles and rights, structured in three categories: (1)  equal opportunities and access to the labour market, (2) fair working conditions and (3) social protection and inclusion.

Pillar of Social Rights principles: Not binding, so close scrutiny will be necessary

The Pillar has been brought forward as a legally non-binding but immediately effective Commission Recommendation and as a proposal for a joint proclamation by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. A new social scoreboard shall in the future regularly track trends and performances and assess progress in relation to the 20 principles and rights under the Pillar. Findings will feed into country-specific recommendations (CSRs) of the European semester of economic policy coordination.

In the context of the Pillar of Social Rights, the European Commission also proposed legislation on an improved work-life balance – most notably regarding:

• the introduction of paternity leave. Fathers/second parents shall be able to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child, compensated at least at the level of sick pay;
• the further strengthening of parental leave. The four 4 months period shall be compensated at least at sick pay level and be non-transferable from a parent to another. Parents will also have the right to request to take leave in a flexible way (part-time or in a piecemeal way) and the age of the child up to which parents can take leave will be increased from 8 to 12 years old;
• the introduction of carers’ leave for workers caring for seriously ill or dependent relatives. Working carers shall be able to take at least 5 days per year, compensated at least at sick pay level;
• the extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements (reduced working hours, flexible working hours and flexibility in place of work) to all working parents of children up to 12 and carers with dependent relatives.

In the frame of the Pillar of Social Rights, the European Commission moreover opened social partner consultations on social protection to define possible new rules in this area and on a possible revision of the Written statement directive 91/533/EEC (which gives employees starting a new job the right to be notified in writing of the essential aspects of their employment relationship). The Commission also issued an interpretative communication to provide guidance on how to interpret various aspects of the Working time directive 2003/88/EC in today’s world of work.

Work-life balance measures accompanying the Pillar: Overdue but a step forward

In a first reaction, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger said: “During the last year, CESI’s Presidium and internal Commission on Employment and Social Affairs have actively positioned CESI on the European Pillar of Social Rights and the initiatives around it. We mainstreamed issues around the future of work, including digitalisation and new forms of employment, at our last Congress in December 2016 and we held numerous exchanges of views with the European Commission and policy makers. It is unfortunate that the Pillar will only apply automatically to all euro countries – after all, social progress and quality employment matter to the people living and working in the entire EU, so I hope non-euro countries will opt-in voluntarily. However, the most important issue remains to create a real social dimension, if need be only among the euro zone members or a ‘coalition of the willing’, as laid out as a possible future scenario in a reflection paper on the social dimension of the EU that was also published today. CESI We would also have welcomed more teeth in the implementation and enforcement mechanism of the 20 principles and rights under the Pillar, but if we achieve a successful, careful scrutiny on how Member States go about in realising targets, then the Pillar may still make the EU more social than it currently is.”

He added: “Our internal Commission on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality worked in detail for a better work-life balance for employees and especially a more equal sharing of domestic responsibilities in working families. Today’s package is overdue but certainly a step forward. I am glad that our messages from a recent social partner consultation seem to have been picked up a considerable extent.”

Legislative proposals must not be watered down during EP-Council negotiations

Before coming to hasty detailed conclusions, CESI, together with its members and affiliates, will take stock of and thoroughly analyse all proposals and measures presented today so as to allow a conclusive assessment and a constructive dialogue with MEPs and the Council of Ministers. Klaus Heeger concluded: “The European Commission has put its cards on the table. It is now up to the co-legislators and social partners to deliver. It is last but not least also CESI’s responsibility to make sure that today’s package will bring real added value to Europe’s citizens and workers.”

CESI’s Congress motions, position paper on the Pillar of Social Rights, and consultation contributions on the various initiatives comprising today’s Social Pillar package can be accessed in the resources section on CESI’s website.