The hearings of the Commissioners-designate started in the European Parliament on 30th September. The new Commissioner for Jobs too answered in a 3-hour hearing the questions of MEPs, in his case before the Employment Committee. From AK’s point of view, many important issues on the more social shaping of Europe were part of the hearing.
Nicolas Schmit, former Luxembourg Labour Minister and since May 2019 MEP of the S&D faction in the EU Parliament, showed himself to be a great supporter of the social partnership, the social dialogue and of collective bargaining. It was necessary – in particular in countries where no distinctive social partnership structures existed – to strengthen trade unions and business associations. According to Schmit, in order to find ways to increase tariff commitment the European level had to become more active, for example making funds available from the EU budget.
Fair minimum wage and strong collective agreement systems
Concerning the issue of a fair minimum wage – one of the key projects of the Mission Letter to Nicolas Schmit from Commission President Von der Leyen – Schmit also regards collective agreements as the best way to achieve this. In particular looking in the direction of the Scandinavian MEPs, he emphasised that it was not the intention at all of a new European Framework Directive to interfere in existing, well working collective agreement systems. However, the minimum wage was required were no tariff commitment existed.
Platform workers, psychological illnesses and labour inspectorates
Looking at the new legislation in California, Europe still has major regulation gaps concerning the working conditions of platform workers. According to Schmit, what was needed was strengthening their rights, which includes the introduction of a legal concept of worker and the right of platform workers to collective bargaining. Putting an end to precarious work in Europe, for example based on the concept of a concept of worker in EU law, is also a demand, which AK has put forward time and again over the past years.
Schmit also referred to work-related stress, burnouts and psychological illnesses among platform workers and in other sectors. These issues had to be addressed within the scope of the action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. In order to push back exploitation, the Commissioner-designate demanded to strengthen and expand labour inspectorates and supported a strong European Labour Authority and better control regarding the implementation of posting of workers provisions.
Social economy, child poverty and unemployment reinsurance
Schmit called himself a “great fan of the social economy”: it would not only offer important services, but would also be an important labour market. Hence it had to be given the same priority as the single market. It was important for example to increase investments in public housing. Schmit also regards the continuation and improvement of the existing Youth Guarantee and the creation of a Child Guarantee, which would be designed to fight child poverty as being significant for social cohesion.
Looking back at the economic and financial crisis, Schmit said that people’s security had also then to be guaranteed if countries would get into financial difficulties. This could be guaranteed by the unemployment reinsurance, which was also announced in the Mission Letter: this was not about permanent transfers to individual Member States, but to cushion shocks in the economy. From the point of view of the Chamber of Labour, in order to achieve upwards convergence it would also be necessary to introduce European minimum standards with regard to unemployment insurance.
What are the next steps regarding the social agenda?
In his hearing, the Commissioner-designate for Jobs mentioned some important projects for shaping Europe in a more social fashion. Also positive is his remark that the social agenda is not yet a completed project, but it has to be developed in particular also in close cooperation with the EU Parliament. However, pivotal for the success of the social agenda of the EU Commission will also be the setting of priorities in other policy areas and the coordination between Commissioners. For example, the “one in, one out” principle, which is part of all Mission Letters, represents a potential threat to minimum standards, for example im the social sector.