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Workers’ rights and the Social Pillar

European Pillar of Social Rights: old wine in new bottles?

Politically, the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) reaffirmed social and labour law’s place squarely on the EU agenda. It also raised some hopes for con- vergence towards higher pan-European legal standards. However, when we look specifically at workers’ rights, we see that hardly anything new has been proposed. For the most part, the EPSR merely reiterates rights that have already long existed in the EU acquis. Prime examples of this are the right to equal pay for women and men, the right to equal treatment in employment, and the right to be informed and consulted in cases of business transfer, restructuring and mergers. There are very few new rights proclaimed in the EPSR. The most promising, and most frequently mentioned, is the right to fair wages (see also Chapter 4 of Benchmarking Working Europe 2018). The EPSR also adds  a  deadline  to the existing right to be informed about the terms and conditions of employment: this information should be given at the start of employment, instead of within the first two months, as is cur- rently foreseen in the Written Statement Directive. With respect to dismiss- als, the EPSR establishes the right to a reasonable notice period and the right to be informed about the reasons for the dismissal. Finally, while the Merger Regulation states that workers hve to be informed about the merger, the EPSR add the right to consultation.

In this way, the EPSR to a certain extent complements some of the already existing rights. This, however, has mostly been done to remain aligned with the secondary law proposals that were issued alongside the EPSR proposal (on work–
life balance, the revision of the Written Statement Directive, and access to social protection).

The Commission’s proposed revision of the Written Statement Directive already proposes that the information on working conditions should be given to the worker on the  first day of their employment (European Commission 2017a: 12). Therefore, the EPSR does no more  than  implement  the Commission’s proposal. Similarly, the Commission’s proposal on work-life balance, in line with Principle #9 of the Pillar, envisages that the right to parental leave should provide flexibility in how this leave will be taken (e.g. part-time, full-time or in flexible forms) (European Commission 2017d: 12). Here, again, it can be argued that the Pillar seeks to implement the Commission’s legislative proposal, rather than vice versa.

Furthermore,    the    Pillar      itself requires  specific  legislative  measures to be adopted in order for its rights to be legally enforceable (Recital 14 of the Pre- amble). In this way the EPSR fails to use the opportunity to strengthen the imple- mentation of workers’ rights embedded in EU secondary law.

What does the EPSR actually mean then for workers’ rights at the EU level? In legal terms at least, nothing much beyond reaffirming the existence of already existing rights. Although to a limited extent it adds to existing rights,   a major question mark remains hanging over how they will be enforced, and any meaningful enforcement  will  require the adoption of further (implementing) measures either at national or EU level, and with all the accompanying legislative struggles. A political commitment to the principles which guide social policy is essential.

Source: Benchmarking Working Europe 2018 (p.67)

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