The EU has put in place a set of labour rules to ensure strong social protection. They include minimum requirements on working conditions – such as working time, part-time work, workers’ rights – to information about important aspects of their employment and the posting of workers. They have become one of the cornerstones of Europe’s social policies.
The social partners – trade unions and employers organisations – are involved in the shaping of European social and employment policies via the so-called social dialogue, through consultations and opinions, and can also negotiate framework agreements on specific matters.
Workers’ rights and new forms of work
The EU has introduced minimum common standards on working hours applicable to all member states. EU legislation in the field of working time establishes individual rights for all workers, with a maximum working week of 48 hours, paid annual leave of at least four weeks per year, rest periods and rules on night work, shift work and patterns of work.
Over the years, Europe has witnessed significant changes in the labour market, including digitalisation and the development of new technologies, growing flexibility and fragmentation of work. These developments have generated new forms of employment, with an increase in temporary positions and non-standard jobs.
To protect all workers in the EU and improve the rights of the most vulnerable employees on atypical contracts, MEPs adopted in 2019 new rules introducing minimum rights on working conditions. The legislation sets protective measures such as limiting the length of the probationary period to six months, introducing free mandatory training and banning restrictive contracts. The rules also require that all new employees get key information on their responsibilities within a week of starting work.
The EU also wants workers to be involved in their company’s decision-making and has established a general framework for the rights of workers to be informed and consulted.
EU rules require that in the event of mass redundancies employers must negotiate with workers’ representatives.
At transnational level, employees are represented by European Works Councils. Through these bodies, workers are informed and consulted by management on any significant decision at EU level that could affect employment or working conditions.
Workers’ mobility within the EU
EU rules on the coordination of member states’ social security systems guarantee that people can fully benefit from their right to move to another EU country to study, work or settle whilst getting the social and health benefits they are entitled to. EU legislation covers sickness, maternity/paternity leave, family, unemployment and similar benefits and is currently under review.
IN 2019 MEPs approved plans to create a new EU agency, the European Labour Authority, which, to assist member states and the European Commission in applying and enforcing EU law in the field of labour mobility and coordinating social security systems. The agency will be fully operational by 2023.
Employees can be sent by their companies to another EU country on a temporary basis to carry out specific tasks. In 2018, EU rules on the posting of workers were overhauled to ensure the principle of equal pay for equal work at the same place.
To tackle unemployment and better match labour market supply and demand across Europe, Parliament approved a new law to revamp the European Jobs Network (Eures) with an EU-wide database of job seekers and vacancies in 2016.
Workers’ health and safety
The EU adopts legislation in the field of health and safety at work to complement and support the activities of member states.
The European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work sets general principles related to minimum health and safety requirements. It applies to nearly all sectors of public and private activity and defines obligations for employers and employees.
Additionally, there are specific rules covering exposure to dangerous substances, groups of workers suchpregnant women and young workers, specific tasks such as the manual handling of loads and workplaces such as fishing vessels.
For example, the directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to carcinogens or mutagens at work is updated regularly, setting exposure limits for specific substances.
EU countries are free to set more stringent standards when transposing EU directives into national law.
With an ageing workforce, the risk of developing health problems has increased. In 2018, MEPs adopted a report proposing measures to facilitate people’s return to the workplace after long-term sick leave and to better include people who are chronically sick or have a disability in the workforce.
Promoting work-life balance and gender equality
The European Parliament has always been a strong defender of gender equality. To provide more equal opportunities for men and women and to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities, MEPs adopted in 2019 a set of new rules to allow parents and workers taking care of relatives with serious medical conditions so they could establish a better work-life balance.
The directive sets a minimum of 10 days of paternity leave, a minimum of four months’ parental leave per parent (of which two are not transferable) and five days of carers’ leave per year and provides for more flexible working arrangements.
Maternity rights are defined in the Pregnant Workers Directive, setting the minimum period for maternity leave at 14 weeks, with two weeks’ compulsory leave before and/or after confinement.
European Agenda on Migration four years on
Ahead of the October European Council, the Commission is today reporting on key progress under the European Agenda on Migration since 2015, with focus on steps taken by the EU since the last progress report in March 2019. The Commission also set out those areas where work must continue to address current and future migration challenges.
High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini said: “Over the past years we have built an EU external migration policy when there was none. We have developed new partnerships and strengthened the old ones, starting with the African Union and the United Nations. Together we are saving lives and protecting those in need by enabling legal migration channels, addressing the drivers of migration, and fighting against smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings. The past years have confirmed that no country can address this complexity alone. It is only by working together, by joining forces that we can tackle these global challenges in an effective, human and sustainable way.”
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “These past years have shown that only together as a Union we are capable of responding to extreme circumstances. Collectively, we have laid down the structural and operational foundations for a comprehensive European migration system that not only responds effectively and delivers results, but also promotes solidarity and responsibility. While there is still more work to do and the situation remains fragile, we are much better prepared than we were in 2015.”
When the migration crisis broke out in 2015, the EU took swift and determined action to face exceptional challenges through common European solutions. Over the past 4 years, the basis for a strong collective EU migration policy and new tools and procedures for efficient coordination and cooperation are now in place. The EU is better equipped than ever before to provide operational and financial support to Member States under pressure, manage the external borders and work in partnership with countries outside the EU. However, more efforts are needed to complete this work and make the EU’s migration policy truly future-proof, effective and resilient.
Important progress made towards a strong and effective EU migration management policy
Over the past 5 years, the Commission has worked tirelessly to build a stronger EU policy on migration. By focusing on priority areas we have managed to move from crisis mode to creating structural solutions to ensure Europe is better prepared for any future migratory challenges – in the medium and long term.
Solidarity and support to Member States: The EU is now working more closely with Member States than ever before through the hotspot approach and EU Agencies with over 2,300 staff deployed on the ground – to better manage migration, strengthen the external borders, save lives, reduce the number of irregular arrivals and ensure effective returns. The coordination processes and operational structures developed and established on the ground are key achievements that will remain in place.
Stronger cooperation with partner countries is achieving results: The EU has stepped up the work with partners outside of Europe to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, protect refugees and migrants and support host communities. Unprecedented funding, worth €9.7 billion, has been mobilised to this effect, notably through the EU Trust Fund for Africa, the Syria Trust Fund or the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, under which 97% of €6 billion has already been allocated. EU support is also focusing on resilience, stability, economic and employment opportunities. Cooperation with partner countries on return has also improved, with return and readmission agreements and arrangements now in place with 23 partner countries.
Groundwork laid for future strong and fair asylum rules:The need for a reformed Common European Asylum System was one of the clearest lessons of the 2015 crisis. The Commission put all the necessary proposals on the table for a complete and sustainable EU framework for migration and asylum. Whilst progress was made on five out of seven proposals, the reform is still pending and a common approach to securing a fair, more efficient and sustainable asylum system is still needed.
Important progress on safe and legal pathways: Over the past 5 years, Member States have made the largest collective efforts ever on resettlement, with almost 63,000 persons resettled. Confirming their commitment and determination to ensure the continuity of EU resettlement efforts in the future, Member States have responded to the Commission’s call to continue resettling in 2020 by already pledging around 30,000 resettlement places.
More work and immediate steps required in key areas
Whilst the overall migratory situation across all routes has returned to pre-crisis levels with arrivals in September 2019 being around 90% lower than in September 2015, the situation remains volatile and geopolitical developments have created new challenges for the EU. Further work is needed to address immediate key challenges and to progress on on-going work, in particular:
Urgent action to improve the conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean: Whilst the Greek authorities have undertaken steps over the past months to alleviate the pressure on the islands, including notably a new reception strategy and new asylum measures, the increase in arrivals has put strain on an already fraught system. While the EU-Turkey Statement continues to deliver concrete results, renewed migratory pressure in Turkey and instability in the wider region continues to cause concern. In view of this, urgent action must be taken to improve reception conditions, increase transfers to mainland Greece from the islands and increase returns under the Statement. The Commission is also stepping up its support to Cyprus, which is currently facing an increase in arrivals.
More solidarity on search and rescue: Despite search and rescue efforts, lives continue to be lost at sea and the ad hoc relocation solutions coordinated by the Commission are clearly not long-term remedies. The Commission remains committed to working with and supporting Member States in agreeing temporary arrangements to facilitate disembarkation following search and rescue in the Mediterranean, and encourages more Member States to participate in solidarity efforts. Such arrangements could serve as inspiration for addressing flows in other parts of the Mediterranean.
Accelerate evacuations from Libya: The situation in Libya remains a major concern. After violent conflict erupted in and around Tripoli in April 2019, intensified efforts through the trilateral AU-EU-UN taskforce must continue to help free migrants from detention, facilitate voluntary return (49,000 returns so far) and evacuate the most vulnerable persons (over 4,000 evacuated). Member States urgently need to increase and accelerate the pace of resettlements under the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Niger run with the UNHCR and support the newly established ETM in Rwanda.
EU trade agreements: Delivering new opportunities in time of global economic uncertainties
Despite the difficult global economic climate, European companies have continued to make good use of the opportunities created by the European Union’s trade network – the largest in the world. In 2018 this network covered 31% of Europe’s trade exchanges, a figure that is set to rise significantly (to almost 40%) as more trade agreements enter into force, according to the European Commission’s annual report on the implementation of trade agreements released today. Overall, trade accounts for 35% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP).
In 2018 EU exports to and imports from trade agreement partners showed positive developments, with a continued growth of 2% and 4.6% respectively, with a strong performance of EU agri-food exports. The EU’s growing network of trade agreements is creating economic opportunities for workers across Europe, with over 36 million jobs being supported by exports to outside of the EU. The EU recorded a surplus of €84.6 billion in trade in goods with its trade agreement partners, compared to its overall trade deficit with the rest of the world of about €24.6 billion.
Commenting on the report, Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said “Trade agreements create opportunities for European businesses to grow and hire more people. Today’s report shows that overall trade is up, and more of our global trade is covered by preferential deals than ever before. Our food and drink exports in particular are flourishing thanks to lower tariffs and legal protection abroad for artisanal EU products like Champagne and Feta. The report also provides evidence of how our focus on trade and sustainable development is bearing fruit. Furthermore, we have taken a number of unprecedented steps to enforce the commitments made by our trade partners in the last year, including notably on workers’ rights. There is still work to be done, of course. But by opening up this data to the wider public we hope to launch a wider discussion about how to make sure trade agreements benefit as many citizens as possible.”
Looking at specific sectors across agreements, the 2018 report shows:
- EU agri-food exports to trade partners continued to grow with an overall increase of 2.2% compared to the previous year. Exports of agri-food products to South Korea also gained 4.8 %. Also noteworthy are agri-food exports to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which grew by 11% compared to 2017;
- EU industrial goods exports also increased overall by 2%, with stronger growth among others for chemicals (2.5 %), mineral products (6 %) and base metals (4.4 %).
Looking for instance at one of the recent trade agreements, the report shows that in the first full calendar year (2018) of the EU-Canada trade agreement implementation:
- bilateral trade in goods grew by 10.3% and the EU’s trade surplus with Canada increased by 60%;
- EU goods exports to Canada rose by 15% (or €36 billion in extra export revenue), especially for sectors where import duties were previously high such as pharmaceuticals (up 29%), machinery (up 16%) or organic chemicals (up 77 %);
- EU Agri-food exports to Canada (accounting for 9% of total EU exports) rose by 7%.
Moreover, following intensive discussions in the joint committees created under the different trade agreements, several partner countries lifted barriers to trade, thus allowing more EU companies to benefit fully from the opportunities these agreements offer. Danish and Dutch farmers, for example, will be able to export beef to South Korea, while Poland and Spain will be able to export poultry meat to South Africa.
The report investigates also the impact of the provisions included in the dedicated ‘Trade and Sustainable Development’ (TSD) chapters, which are part of all modern EU trade agreements. These chapters aim at engaging with trade partners to implement international rules on labour and the environment, as incorporated in multilateral environmental agreements or International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. Recent achievements ahead of the entry into force of the respective agreements include the ratification by Mexico and Vietnam of ILO Convention 98 on the rights to organise and collective bargaining. Additionally, the agreements with Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Mercosur and Mexico include reinforced commitments to effectively implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
In 2018 and 2019, the EU also took several enforcement actions under its trade agreements, including in relation to labour standards. Among other examples, the EU requested a panel following South Korea’s failure to ratify ILO Conventions on workers’ rights, notably freedom of association and collective bargaining.
However, the report also highlights the need to increase efforts – together with Member States and stakeholders – to raise awareness of the opportunities trade agreements offer, as well as stepping up enforcement action so the agreements deliver the intended results.
The report will now be subject to discussion with the European Parliament and Member States’ representatives in the Council.
How to increase green investment in the EU
A shift to a less-polluting economy requires significant investment. The EU wants to attract more private money as public funds are insufficient.
The EU needs about €180 billion a year of additional investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy to cut carbon emissions 40% by 2030. Even more is needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Some investment in climate and environment projects comes from the EU budget. For example, about 20% of the 2019 budget of €165.8 billion is related to tackling climate change. The European Parliament wants to increase this share of the budget to 30%.
How does the EU attract private green investment?
Public money is not enough for the amount of green investment that is needed, which is why the EU is working to attract private investment. Billions have already been mobilised through the European Fund for Strategic Investments and European Investment Bank (EIB) loans, and the share of money earmarked for climate projects is set to increase.
The EIB’s role in financing climate-friendly projects has increased. In her speech in Parliament in July, Ursula von der Leyen, the future president of the European Commission, said she would propose increasing it further by turning parts of the EIB into Europe’s climate bank. How to get the EIB more involved in green projects was discussed by MEPs on Wednesday 9 October.
The Parliament and the Council are also discussing new rules on sustainable investment that would act as a guide to investors, businesses and policy makers on what economic activities and investments should be considered as green.
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