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European Pillar of Social Rights – Toward a more equal and social Europe?

April 28th 2017

On Wednesday 26 April, the European Commission launched its proposal for the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Commission has also put forward a number of legislative and non-legislative initiatives related to work-life balance, the information of workers, access to social protection and working time.

European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out a number of key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. Together, these principles and rights set out an agenda for better-performing economies and more equitable and resilient societies. The goal is to foster a renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions across Europe. In this context, the European Pillar of Social Rights is about delivering new and more effective rights for citizens, addressing emerging social challenges and the changing world of work in light of, notably, emerging types of employment deriving from new technologies and the digital revolution. These principles and rights cover the areas of employment, social protection, social inclusion, education and equal opportunities.

Important developments

Initial key positive elements include a commitment to a rights-based approach aiming at upward convergence on rights as well as improving take up of rights, however it remains to be seen how this will be effectively translated in practice. Some important elements which reiterate already established principles are seen in the key principles – for example:

  • Equality of treatment and opportunities between women and men must be ensured and fostered in all areas, including regarding participation in the labour market, terms and conditions of employment and career progression;
  • Continued support for equal pay for work of equal value;
  • Equality of opportunity between women and men when it comes to acquiring pension rights;
  • Recognition that children have a right to protection from poverty;
  • The right to a minimum income that ensures a life in dignity.
Fighting Discrimination on the Ground of Race and Ethnic Origin (2016)
Fighting Discrimination on the Ground of Race and Ethnic Origin (2016)

The Pillar also covers the different aspects of the right to housing in a comprehensive manner for the first time at Union level, going further than the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. This is particularly important for minority groups such as the Roma who, as we recently highlighted in our Paper on Fighting Discrimination on the Ground of Race and Ethnic Origin, are systematically discriminated when it comes to housing. Equinet underlined the importance of tackling this issue in more detail in the OPRE joint statement to stop evictions of Roma and Travellers.

The legislative proposals on work-life balance and access to social protection appear to be a positive move, as do the extension of a social scoreboard and the mainstreaming of social rights monitoring through the European Semester.

Missed opportunities

The pillar remains a framework of principles rather than binding obligations that guarantee rights, particularly for the most vulnerable, and initially it is only focused on the Eurozone, and this is one of the major limitations.

The Pillar stresses the rights to “adequate minimum income” and “adequate minimum wage”. This is essential as 30% of young people are currently still at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Europe. However, the Pillar proposal fails to address the discrimination faced by young people on the labour market and social protection. Young people can’t be paid less than the national minimum wage just because of their age.

A pillar for equal opportunities

As regards the implementation of the Pillar for equal opportunities, it says that Member States are responsible for transposing and enforcing rules adopted at Union level. In addition, Member States are invited to continue making progress in the negotiations of the proposed new Equal Treatment Directive (so-called Horizontal Directive) towards its swift adoption. Through their National Equality Bodies, Member States may promote equal opportunities of under-represented groups and assist victims of discrimination on the ground.

The Commission will continue its efforts to ensure the adoption of the proposed new Equal Treatment Directive to expand protection against discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation to social protection, including social security and healthcare; education; social advantages; and access to goods and services which are available to the public, including housing. In the meantime, the Union is supporting intermediary players such as NGOs, social partners and equality bodies to improve their capacity to combat discrimination. Equinet supports any initiative to get things moving on this so-called Horizontal Directive and welcomes that the European Pillar of Social Rights already covers the areas to be covered by this future legislation.

Equinet’s contribution

Contributing to the protection, respect and fulfillment of Economic and Social Rights (2015)
Contributing to the protection, respect and fulfillment of Economic and Social Rights (2015)

Equinet contributed to the consultation process open on the European Pillar of Social Rights. This was based on our 2016 Perspective Equality Bodies contributing to the protection, respect and fulfillment of economic and social rights, developed as part of our participation in the Council of Europe, EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, ENNHRI and Equinet Collaborative Platform on social and economic rights.

We look forward to continuing this engagement with the European Commission and other partners, ensuring that the European Pillar of Social Rights is implemented as a strong and meaningful document ensuring rights and equality.

Work-Life Balance

The European Commission has developed a proposal on work-life balance which sets a number of new or higher minimum standards for parental, paternity and carer’s leave. Equinet welcomes the proposed Work-Life Balance Directive and that the European Commission uses legislative measures to address these crucial gender equality issues. In particular, we welcome the introduction of paternity leave and carers’ leave, the strengthening of parental leave, and strengthened protection against dismissal. We miss important changes on maternity leave however, which seems to be a missed opportunity considering this replaces the proposed Maternity Leave Directive.

What will the Commission’s proposal improve? (Paternity leave, Parental leave, Carers’ Leave, Flexible Working Arrangements)
What will the Commission’s proposal improve? (Paternity leave, Parental leave, Carers’ Leave, Flexible Working Arrangements)

The role of Equality Bodies

Article 15: Member States shall ensure that the body or bodies designated, pursuant to Article 20 of Directive 2006/54/EC, for the promotion, analysis, monitoring and support of equal treatment of parents and carers without discrimination on grounds of sex are also competent for issues falling within the scope of this Directive.

Article 15 proposes to extend the mandate of equality bodies responsible for the Gender Recast Directive to Work Life Balance issues which we very much welcome. However, we note that there is a need for more specific provisions on the role and setting up of equality bodies in order for them to optimize their capacity to fully implement the Directive once adopted, namely on:

  • Independence: the current proposal only provides minimum indication on the functional independence of equality bodies. Explicit reference to the structural independence of equality bodies needed to fulfil the new functions foreseen under the new initiative would be welcome.
  • Resources: the current proposal does not mention anything on adequate resources to fulfill this mandate. Equality bodies which do not already cover WLB issues will need adequate resources to cover these new tasks. Some EBs which already deal with WLB issues might not currently have adequate resources and such provision would help them to adequately fulfill this mandate. Explicit reference to adequate additional resources to fulfill these functions would be welcome.

Equinet calls for European standards on independence, effectiveness, functions & powers for equality bodies.

Further Reading