The current edition of the publication “Social policy in the European Union: State of play 2018” is focussing on the European Pillar of Social Rights. The question is raised to which extent it influences a European social policy and whether it would be able to promote the creation of a European Social Union. Further topics are social security, digitalization of the labour market, progress in occupational medicine as well as eco-social policies.
At an event on 18.03.2019, Bart Vanhercke, Director at the Brussels-based European Social Observatory, presented the new edition of “Social policy in the European Union” by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Social Observatory (OSE). He pointed out that the idea of a European Social Union would be a union of welfare states, whose responsibility would be to relieve the burden on national welfare states. To achieve this, cooperation of national and supranational institutions as well as the coordination of different social security systems is needed. Apart from that, the EU - within the scope of the European Semester- has the opportunity to influence the social policy of the Member States. The European Pillar of Social Rights has been the first step towards a new EU social policy, which is already reflected in first concrete Directives (Work-Life Balance Directive, Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions).
Digitalization of the labour market
Other chapters of the publication address the issues of digitalization and the changes in working conditions. The digital transformation in the labour market is creating new forms of jobs (e.g. platform jobs), which, however, also entail risks. The formally self-employed are pushed into dependent working conditions, which are often precarious and provide no or hardly any social security, which is a problem, especially in cases of ill health. Another chapter deals with the right to health and safety at work. In particular the Directive on carcinogens is seen here as a first success.
Climate change as challenge for social policy
Other important subjects, which were addressed in the publication and at the event, concern the increasing ecological problems and its consequences for the society as well as the rising global social inequality. Climate change is a big challenge for social policy; nevertheless, it is largely ignored in social-policy debates. In this context, Vanhercke mentioned a double injustice: poorer population groups contributed the least to climate change; however, they are the ones who would suffer the most (access to drinking water, heat waves, bad air quality) and who would least able to bear the financial burden of climate change.
However, reducing CO2 emissions is not enough to stop climate change. Hence, Béla Galgóczi (ETUC) and Philippe Lamberts (MEP Greens/EFA) demanded a just transition and a detachment from the growth paradigm. The International Labour Authority (ILO) has drawn up Directives, which are essential for a transition towards social justice and climate protection. Financial burdens, which climate change entails, shall be distributed fairly to ensure that poorer population groups to not have to shoulder the main costs. In addition, new and sustainable jobs have to be created and regions, whose economy is based on non-sustainable resource extraction (e.g. coal mining), shall be supported to cope with this transition with the lowest possible social consequences. Governments and political decision-makers have to submit a framework for a fair transition. Commission representative Claudia Hahn (DG Environment) therefore requests ambitious targets from politicians and regards the ban of single-use plastic as a first step in the right direction. In addition, cooperation with trade unions and social and environment NGOs has to be strengthened.
Sustainable and inclusive growth
Efficient solutions are required to cope the consequences of climate change in social political terms and to secure the future of the welfare state. Hence, Milena Büchs (University of Leeds) demanded a progressive tax on wealth and high income in order to continue financing the welfare state. Georg Zachmann (Think Tank Bruegel) also pointed out that more ideas on climate compensation were necessary and that consumers also had to be more involved in the dialogue. Sebastiano Sabato (OSE) emphasises that economic growth had to be smart, sustainable and inclusive to counter inequality. In addition, not only the social effects of climate change need to be made visible, but cooperation between social and environment policy had to be improved.
The state of the European Social policy will also discussed at the event “What does it take to have a European Union working for workers?” hosted by AK EUROPA, The Brussels Office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation ÖGB Europabüro and ETUC in the Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU on 26.03.2019. Among other, this year’s “Benchmarking Working Europe” report by ETUC will be discussed; furthermore, the results of “EU in a nutshell”, a Europe-wide labour market monitor, will be presented.