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Since the European Commission has launched its consultation on a European Pillar for social rights (EPSR) on 8 March this year, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee has developed a draft report, led by Maria João Rodrigues, Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Member of European Parliament (MEP), in order to give the European Parliament’s opinion on the issue. This issue has widely mobilised various political groups – which is reflected by the several 1119 amendments of the text – , and trade-union and employer organisations, several associations and, more broadly, the civil society.
For the European Commission, the implementation of this pillar falls within the framework of a “deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union”. The world of work is at the core of this initiative, needing to be “fair and truly pan-European”, as stated by the President Jean-Claude Juncker. So, for the Commission, the project focuses on three main titles referring to work, which are “equal opportunities and access to the labour market”; “fair working conditions” and “an adequate and sustainable social protection, as well as access to high quality essential services […] to enable individuals to participate fully in employment”. These concerns have been found in the draft report led by Maria João Rodrigues. Indeed, the report calls for a “directive on fair working conditions for all forms of employment”, being the worker an employee or having a non-standard job form (a fixed-term contract working, internships,…) and which includes “relevant minimum standards” for all workers of the European Union (EU).
But what does a “fair” or “decent” work mean? For the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a “decent work is work that is productive and delivers fair income, that ensures security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives, and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.” According to the draft report on Working conditions and precarious employment, which is the framework of an initiative procedure, whose rapporteur is the MEP NeoklisSylikiotis, of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), a decent work has to “guarantee a coverage by collective agreements, security of collective bargaining, equal pay for equal work in the same place, and protection of theworkers’ family, while supporting the work-life balance for all workers”. Thus, a decent work is often linked to a permanent full-time job contract, with one employer, and has to be considered as the standard work contract. On the opposite, non-standard working contracts are part-time contracts, fixed-term work contract, temporary employment, “zero-hour” contract, internships which are not in the frame of an education programme, and undeclared or informal employment. However, these non-standard contracts are not necessarily precarious. They can be precarious when they don’t offer employment security because of the fixed-term nature; they provide a low remuneration; rights to social protection or employment benefits are low or don’t exist; they lack protection against discriminations; the promotional opportunities in the labour market are limited or inexistent; the right to the collective representation is limited or absent; the work environment fails to meet the minimum standards in terms of health or safety.
The different criteria which identify a decent work are listed in the draft report on a European pillar for social rights, which is divided in six parts:
“Updating existing social standards”
“Quality and fair working conditions”
“Adequate and sustainable social protection”
“Equal opportunities and access to the labour market”
“Building up the means to achieve results in practice”
One of the key factors allowing workers to live in decent conditions is the minimum wage. Indeed, in the draft report, the rapporteur recommends “the establishment of national wage floors […] with the objective of attaining at least 60% of the respective national average wage.” These minimum wages have to be set to a decent level. In January 2016, 22 of the 28 Member States of the EU had set a national minimum wage. However, there are substantial differences across Europe, the amounts being from 215€ monthly in Bulgaria to 1923€ in Luxembourg. When the disparities in prices are taken into account and the monthly minimum wage is expressed in Purchasing Power Standards, differences between the countries are decreasing, going from 445€ in Romania to 1597€ in Luxembourg. However, “the inequality of the wage’s amount can change the situation and place European citizens in competition. Therefore it can cause social dumping within the European Union”, as AEDH has already denounced that.
Nevertheless, does minimum wage necessarily mean decent wage? There is no universal definition of decent wage, not even a fixed level. “It has to enable to human to have a decent existence: these elements differ from one country to another and according to the period” claims Jean-Baptiste Andrieu, partner at Business for social responsibility (BSR). Regarding to France, country where the minimum wage in proportion of median gross salary is the higher among the 28, being 60%, or 1466.62€ gross at the 1st of January 2016, a study by the National observatory of poverty and social exclusion (ONPES), sets this amount at 1424€. This concerns one single person living in a social housing in a medium-size French town. The selected criteria are the one “enabling to the house to ensure body hygiene but as well the possibility to go on holidays, or having a second-hand vehicle”. By consequent, the net minimum wage of 1144€ is less than the decent wage for ONPES. However, the implementation of a minim wage is often criticised, considered as an obstacle to companies’ competitiveness. As summarised by Eric Heyer, economist at the French observatory of economic conditions, “an employer pays its employees according to their level of productivity. Thus, low qualified employees, who have a low productivity, can be more paid thanks to the minimum wage. This makes the hiring of these employees unprofitable and excludes them from employment”.
However, the minimum wage can prove to be a bulwark against poverty, and more generally employment. Indeed, the risk of poverty is lower for working people than unemployed people. This rate is in the EU of 9.5% for working people, against 47.6% for unemployed people in 2015. Nevertheless, as shown in the first figure, employment does not protect one person on ten from poverty in the EU anymore; these people belong to the category of “working poor”.
Moreover, on behalf of “flexicurity”, a term present in the European Commission report for the establishment of a pillar, several social rights have been violated. This term is important for Business Europe – the European employer association – term which would enable, inter alia, companies to adapt their workforce according to their economic situation (working hours, wages…) and the guarantee to shape social rights according to current and future framework conditions, and new and more diverse career paths. Lawyers of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) criticise this notion, which supposes a strong social dialogue, a scheme strongly weakened by austerity measures implemented by the EU and by the Member States, with the decentralisation of collective bargaining. The Confederal secretary of the European Trade-Union Confederation (ETUC), Esther Lynch, agrees with that: under the pretext of budgetary restrictions, Member States have hardened conditions to syndicate and to participate to collective agreements, the negotiations being more and more focused on the sectoral level, which makes the negotiation for the worker more complicated. Moreover, several reforms of labour law in European countries had the aim to facilitate dismissal (including Italy, France, Portugal and of course, Greece), thereby adding to casualisation of employment. For ETUC, the right to bargain collectively has to be guaranteed. It strongly condemns the reintroduction of the term “flexicurity” in the debates, considering that employment markets are already flexible enough. Consequently, the aim of flexibility is detrimental to workers’ safety.
It is in this context that the draft report for a European Pillar of Social Rights specifies that “open-ended contracts should remain the norm given their importance for socio-economic security”. Moreover, in order “to provide adequate protection for people in non-standard forms of employment”, budgetary tools have to be guaranteed. This statement refers at ensuring a minimum income to people, which means “a replacement or additional income to those who are not able to work or whose salary is not sufficient to ensure their livelihood. Thus, it is provided irrespective of the payment of contributions, but depending on resources and situation of the individual/household/family.” However, AEDH has already highlighted that the minimum income cannot be a lasting solution, because it has the objective to make people “less poor” and not to eradicate social exclusion and poverty, which is “not a status; it is mainly the result of economic policies’ orientations. Above all, it is a violation of Human Rights.” Return to work has to be the only way to solve the problem, work which has to be decent.
To conclude, a decent work and social rights have to be guaranteed across the EU. For Allan Larsson, special advisor on the European pillar for social rights appointed by Jean-Claude Juncker, the issue of social rights is a political choice. Economic and social spheres are on the same side of the coin. He highlights the international consensus which exists: indeed, the World Bank, the IMF, the ILO, the OECD claim that inequalities are at the same time social and economic, so representing a barrier to growth.
AEDH supports the creation of a social Europe, where social rights would dominate economic policies. Because of numerous crisis the EU is facing, this latter will have a new road map in March during the Roma summit. As highlighted by Maria João Rodrigues, it is important that the European Pillar for Social Rights is an integral part of it. It is necessary that this pillar has conclusive results, the EU credibility being at stake. For LászlóAndor, former European Commissioner and teacher at Corvinus University, even if a lot of social policies depend on the principle of subsidiarity, they are an integral part of the EU functioning and existence. Consequently, the text rapporteur claims that if they fail, so making this pillar fail, this will also be the failure of the European project.
Maria João Rodrigues, Draft report on a European Pillar of Social Rights, September 2016
 European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the regions: Laucnhing a consultation on a European Pillar of Social Rights, 8 March 2016
 AEDH, Does the minimum wage fights against unemployment or promotes social dumping ? , October 2015
La Tribune, 1.424 euros : le Revenu Minimum Décent d’après l’ONPES, 6 March 2015
 Le Monde, Salaire minimal en Europe : quels pays le mettent en place et pourquoi ?, 7 March 2014
 Business Europe, European Pillar of Social Rights – BusinessEurope contribution to the debate, 24 August 2016