European Pillar of Social Rights: Towards More Equal and Social Europe

On November 9 - 10, 2018 an international conference „European Pillar of Social Rights: Towards More Equal and Social Europe” was held in Vilnius. It was organised by Education Centre of Lithuanian Labour Federation (LDF) with the support of EZA and the European Union.

The conference was attended by more than 50 leaders of Trade Unions and Workers' organizations (5 participants from EZA Platform for Young Workers) from Belgium, Spain, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Ireland, Slovakia, Serbia, Albania, Germany and Lithuania. It was part of the EZA project co-ordination about the “European Pillar of Social Rights”.

The first session of the seminar was held with the aim of informing the members of Trade unions and other workers’ organisations with the initiative taken by the European Union to develop a European Pillar of Social Rights. After the presentation of the aims and objectives of the seminar, Janina Švedienė, Vice-president of EZA, General Secretary of LDF, introduced the EZA organization, provided the latest developments and updated information on its activities related with the topic of the seminar. The speaker underlined that the seminar was organized on the eve of the 1-st birthday of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Katrin Stancheva, as the coordinator of EZA projects on the topic, presented the project coordination system and the main outcomes of the seminars from the project group.

Marius Vaščega, the Deputy Director of Economic Governance at the European Commission Representation in Lithuania, made a presentation on the topic “Twenty Principles of the European Social Pillar. Are these completely new tasks for Europe and Lithuania?” The speaker underlined the key priority of European Commission - Delivering on a more social and fair Europe. The European Pillar of Social Rights has been put forward to serve as a compass for a process leading to renewed socio-economic convergence. The document sets out 20 principles and rights aimed at supporting fair and well-functioning labour markets and social welfare systems. The implementation of these principles and rights is a shared responsibility of the Member States, the EU institutions and the social partners. Putting the Social Pillar into practice means EU and national legislation, economic and social policy, financing and other initiatives – now and into the future. Trade unions and employers also have a role in putting the Social Pillar into practice, particularly through social dialogue and collective bargaining.

Bert Van Caelenberg, the General Secretary of Eurofedop, in his presentation analysed the development of Social protection in Europe: from the European Social Charter to the European Pillar of Social Rights. The speaker underlined the position of the International Labour Organisation regarding the European Pillar of Social Rights and presented the main work EUROFEDOP does regarding the topic.

The Director of the Labour Market Institute, professor B. Gruževskis, concentrated on the situation with regard to social justice in Lithuania and Europe. He analysed the essential aspects of a Social Europe, the necessity of reforms in the education sector, income differentiation, flexicurity and expectations of people in the country. The main message from his presentation was: The European Pillar of Social Rights is useful, but it is necessary to develop a new policy implementation mechanism! The current system is ineffective: it does not ensure sustainable social development.

Dr. Tadas Leončikas, Senior Research Manager at the Social Policies Unit of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working conditions, presented the main findings of the EUROFOUND research: “Living and working in Europe 2017”. He presented the key findings of job quality, wage differentiation, employment development, social security situation in different EU countries.

Janina Švedienė, vice-president of EZA, made a presentation about the Wage differences in countries of the European Union. She presented the east-west pay gap, wage cuts during the economic crisis and the key role of collective bargaining in closing the gap. The speaker introduced the ETUC Pay Rise campaign which runs until mid-2018 and has been undertaken in close cooperation with national affiliates. She also spoke about the ETUC position on the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Tomas Tomilinas, Vice-president of the Social and Labour Committee in the Lithuanian Parliament, a Member of the Lithuanian Parliament, introduced the amendments adopted by the Parliament of Lithuania in connection with the reduction of social exclusion and poverty. He spoke about the pension reform and tax changes. The Member of the Seimas answered questions and comments, discussed with the participants about the social situation in Europe and gave an opinion on how to move towards social justice in Europe. He underlined the importance of social dialogue and social partnership in order to move forward to a more Equal and Social Lithuania.

Daiva Kvedaraitė, a Member of European Economic and Social Committee, aimed to present the Committee’s position on European Pillar of Social Rights. She presented the initiatives of European Social Partners' and its role in building the Pillar. Opinions and documents prepared by the Committee were presented. The speaker underlined that the implementation of the Social Pillar will improve the situation in the Member States. The summary of social indicators of the European Semester (a blueprint) reveals shortcomings and differences between EU countries. All joint work (politicians, social partners, civil society organizations) is needed both in the Member States and at EU level.

Dr. Christina Herman, representing Nell-Breuning-Haus from Germany, made a presentation explaining the situation with regard to equal opportunities in Germany. She presented the equal opportunities in employment and education sectors, reviewed few initiatives and projects about equal opportunities’ in the country.

A major part of the second day of the seminar was dedicated to giving the floor to the participants from different countries to present the situation in particular countries: Latvia, Estonia, Serbia, Spain, Slovakia, Germany, Albania. The participants presented the main developments of social security systems, working conditions and the attitude of the organisations toward the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The participants of the seminar emphasized the need for synergy between economic and social spheres, social partnership and social dialogue were one of the key prerequisites for positive change. It was also considered by the participants that it is essential for civil society to be involved in the implementation of necessary reforms.