A social Europe, workers’ movements and social dialogue: a joint vision for the “European Pillar of Social Rights”?

The European Group for Worker Pastoral met in Manchester (Great Britain) from November 15 – 17, 2018 for its annual symposium. The theme of the symposium was “A social Europe, workers’ movements and social dialogue: a joint vision for the “European Pillar of Social Rights”?” 36 representatives of workers’ organizations from Germany, England, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Portugal and Luxembourg participated in the seminar that was organized with the support of EZA and the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project coordination concerning the “European Pillar of Social Rights.”

  1. What was the most important aspect of the seminar?

The European Social Pillar initiative is seen by our movements and associations as an outcome and a new beginning for social dialogue. An outcome because the European leaders have finally made the social question a central issue of European construction by giving it visible status.  A new beginning because the pillar responds to the critiques of a majority of citizens who say that Europe is merely a large economic area benefiting businesses but not citizens. We are aware that this declaration is important, but it now needs to be given concrete expression. Since social issues are not only within European competence, but very often within the competence of the nation-states, it is going to be necessary to re-launch dialogue and intra-European social dialogue to translate it into concrete policies that benefit the greatest number. The symposium participants reflected on the concrete implications based on their national realities how to define the parameters of a harmonization of social rights in Europe.

  1. Why was the seminar important at this particular time

The issue of the European Social Pillar still, on the one hand, lacks visibility in the public debate and, on the other hand will need to find a translation into concrete action plans in the different countries of the European Union.  We are convinced that the fears in the face of globalization are playing a decisive role in the ascendancy the populist and anti-European parties in many countries.  Making the social question a central issue of the political agenda is a major factor for winning back the trust of citizens in Europe.  Our organizations must play a role in spreading this wish to build a Social Europe 

  1. Which subjects were discussed

Following a general presentation of the genesis of the “European Social Pillar” and its status in the process of constructing Europe by Prof. Jozef Pacolet from the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) and a recontextualization of the Church’s social doctrine in the history of social progress in the European Area by Jean-Claude Brau, discussion largely focused on an analysis of the social issues in the countries of the participants. Mick Rix, National Officer for GMB Commercial Services gave an analysis of what fair working conditions means in concrete terms based on the work experiences of the English labor unions. A visit to the UK’s platform co-ops offered models of alternative companies that are more respectful of the well-being of workers. All the delegations from each participating country then presented their situation and the social issues relating to the 5 points of Chapter two of the European Social Pillar:  fair, decent and equal wages for all, secure and adaptable employment, information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissals, social dialogue and the involvement of workers and work-life balance. Following these summaries of the situation, the participants broke up into working groups to discuss the possibilities of European reconciliation with regard to fair wages, social dialogue and work-life balance. 

  1. Results of the seminar

There is broad consensus concerning the fact that the “European Pillar of Social Rights” constitutes an important step forward for keeping the process of European construction alive. Even if it is not a legally binding framework, it at least testifies to the idea that Europe must put the issue of social justice at the center of its concerns and that it is necessary to work towards a reconciliation of social standards. We know that many subjects fall under national competence.  This makes social dialogue important for moving forward together and succeeding in harmonizing our respective laws.

  1. Result of the discussions, working groups, workshops, etc.

From the working group discussions, the assembly selected:

With regard to social dialogue:

    • The expansion of social dialogue to all dimensions of social life such as culture, citizenship, the debate concerning intergenerational and migration issues
    • The sizeable investment in training concerning social dialogue in order to give everyone the skill to participate in social dialogue.
    • Having a presence on social media in order to use the communication channels of the younger generations with the aim of including them in the dialogue.
    • Making sure that this dialogue is open, frank and shared.  The aim must be the protection of human dignity for all.

With regard to wages:

      • The establishment of a binding mechanism for calculating a social minimum wage in all the countries of the European Union.  This calculation must be based on a plate of needs stemming from fundamental rights (food, housing, culture, health, education, communication and mobility). For each country, the price of this common European “plate”
        will be calculated and converted into a wage.
      • For children, according to the same principle of one plate per age, we must grant a public allowance.
      • Effective mechanisms must be set up in each country to make sure that the range of salaries approaches the one in ten factor.

With regard to “private life-work life” balance

      • Establishment of a single law concerning business hours of businesses in Europe
      • Launching an awareness-raising campaign against hyperconnectivity
      • Guaranteeing access to public daycare for children
      • Making “zero-hour” contracts illegal in Europe. Schedules must be known in advance in consultation with the employee
      • A harmonization and a reduction of working time throughout Europe with mandatory compensatory hiring without loss of wages.
  1. Were decisions reached?  If so, which ones?

The lines of action of the different worker pastorals proposed for this year:

  • Meet with the political parties to motivate them to talk about European social rights in their campaigns for the 2019 European elections
  • Commit with all the organizations of the world of employment to construct this European Pillar of Social Rights, to give it concrete and binding content so that the European policy becomes the guarantor of social justice and supranational solidarity
  • Mobilize and train our members so that they are “multipliers” in this mobilization campaign to establish the European Social Pillar
  • Campaign during the May 2019 European elections to lend more weight to the elected representatives who make a commitment to social justice in Europe.  We are going to fight against all the populist and nationalist forces that are driving Europe toward the abyss
  • Resolutely join forces with the weakest, who are the most vulnerable in the world of employment (single women, unskilled people, sick people, long-term unemployed people, migrants) so that they reclaim their dignity and their place in this Europe.