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Gothenburg Summit: A big day for social rights in the EU

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Today, EU leaders gathered in Gothenburg will adopt 20 principles known as the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’.

The social pillar sets out the challenges of today’s society and the world of work, giving several options for a collective response at European level. The response may come in the form of proposals for new rules or softer instruments such as guidance following public consultations.

The pillar includes new guaranteed rights to paid parental leave, and new protections for gig economy and zero-hours contract workers. And it commits to principles focused on fair working conditions, including adequate minimum wages, work-life balance, and the right for workers to have a say in decisions that affect their employment.

Despite Brexit, the social pillar is still relevant to workers in the UK. We have an interest in the EU improving the welfare of its workers because we may still benefit from those advances in the next couple of years, before Brexit is complete.

And depending on our future relationship with the EU, the UK may still be required to respect those standards – something the TUC has been campaigning for since we don’t want workers in the UK to fall behind.

With a packed agenda that began yesterday with a visit to a Volvo trucks factory, includes a tripartite meeting with employers and will conclude tomorrow with the summit of heads of governments, the ETUC is in Gothenburg to tell employers and heads of government that “signing the European Pillar of Social Rights must be the starting gun of a race to implement it.”

Brexit: lesson learned…

Sharing the benefits of economic growth, adequately funded public services and decent jobs for everyone (with good pay and rights) are essential elements that make societies thrive.

Once upon a time the EU could boast to have a better record than other parts of the world, but a decade of austerity has dismantled this European social model. It’s high time to restore a ‘social market economy’ where social rights cannot be overruled by market freedoms such as employers’ right to do business across the EU.

The social pillar offers the opportunity to improve the social standards that underpin our social model and this new focus seems to indicate that European decision makers have learnt the lessons from Brexit. If the EU and national governments do not make a positive difference in people’s lives and at work, they will turn their back on this project:

“If the principles in the Social Pillar were implemented – said Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC – it would offer new hope for working people who are still waiting to feel the benefit of Europe’s much-proclaimed economic recovery, and breathe new life into the EU. If it turns out to be all promise and no action it will be another nail in the coffin of the EU.”   

…but is the PM listening?

So much for European heads of government, but what about our own? Soon after taking office, the Prime Minister promised to ‘maintain, protect and enhance’ workers’ rights. But the PM has lost workers’ trust following government vote against protection of workers’ rights in the EU Withdrawal Bill earlier this week [14 November].

Gothenburg is her chance to make good on that promise and sign up to stronger protections for workers as called for by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady:

“Theresa May broke her promise to working people this week when she instructed her MPs to vote against protections for workers’ rights after we leave the EU.

“The Prime Minister must now take steps to win back workers’ trust by signing up to stronger rights for UK workers.

“She must reassure working people that a level playing field for workers’ rights will be written into the Brexit deal. Britain’s workers must not be left to fall behind the rest of Europe when future improvements are made.”

Image: Daniel Sjöström

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