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Europe publishes labour market principles as part of social rights 'pillar'

The European Commission has published its European Pillar of Social Rights setting out 20 principles to support "fair and well-functioning" labour markets and welfare systems.02 May 2017

The principles under the pillar fall into three categories: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion. They include gender equality and equal opportunities plus rights covering employment security, wages and employment conditions.

A number of the principles and rights included in the pillar will need further legislative or non-legislative initiatives to become effective, the Commission said.

"Where needed, existing EU law will be updated, complemented and better enforced, as exemplified by the rest of the package presented alongside the pillar. Today, the Commission adopted a proposal on work-life balance, it launched two social partner consultations, one on modernising the rules on labour contracts and one on access to social protection, and it adopted a clarification of the working time directive," it said.

Under work-life balance the Commission proposed extended paternity, parental and carers' leave, and protection against discrimination or dismissal if workers ask for leave or flexible working arrangements.

The social partner consultations will look at labour contracts, and at how to provide social protection to all workers including the self-employed or those with "non-standard" work contracts.

"Today people in self-employment constitute 15% of the workforce in EU member states and people in non-standard employment form another 20 to 25%. In many member states they are left without sufficient access to social protection and employment services and it is estimated they account for up to half of EU non-standard workers and self-employed," it said.

Unemployment insurance is not accessible for the self-employed in ten EU countries, and a third of people on temporary full-time contracts in the EU do not qualify for unemployment benefits, ranging from more than 70% to less than 3% depending on the member state, the Commission said.

"As for sickness benefits, some 40% of the self-employed do not qualify, and for workers on fixed term contracts it is as little as 10% who are in this situation," it said.

"The accumulated effects of such disparities in entitlements are likely to give rise to new inter- and intra-generational inequalities between those that have or manage to gain employment on standard contracts with full social rights and those who do not, which undermines the overall sustainability of the social protection systems," it said.

The Commission is also providing guidance on how to interpret various aspects of the working time directive to "bring clarity on content and application" based on case law, it said.

Officials hope the aims of the pillar will eventually be incorporated into the EU treaties. It is designed to act as "a compass for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe. It is primarily conceived for the euro area but applicable to all EU member states wishing to be part of it," the Commission said.

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