The COVID-19 crisis amplifies already existing inequalities in society – be it the situation of women and minorities or the status of posted and seasonal workers. Hence, as pointed out by EU Commissioners Helena Dalli and Nicolas Schmit, the reconstruction should not only be green and digital, but also socially just and fair.
On 26 May, Nicolas Schmit, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, ensured the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) that the social agendas of the Commission would not change, even in the light of the COVID-19 crisis. Combatting youth unemployment would be a key element of the reconstruction and the Youth Guarantee would be presented in the current 2nd quarter of 2020. Working on the minimum wage initiative will also be continued – the 2nd consultation process will start next week. The relevant Commission proposal will be presented in the last quarter of 2020. A possible initiative for a minimum income will be a subject matter of the incoming German Presidency (July to December 2020).
Apart from that, MEPs also called for increased support for economically less privileged parts of the population. Thus, MEP Katrin Langensiepen (Greens) demanded an EU framework for national strategies for helping the homeless and a comprehensive tackling poverty strategy. Criticism was voiced by MEP Agnes Jongerius (S&D) in respect of the Aviation Summit, which took place on 27 May 2020, to which – as at previous aviation summits – only the industry, but not the trade unions had been invited.
Increased vulnerability of women …
The EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, accepted the invitations of two Committees – the EMPL as well as the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). According to her, the Commission is examining the gender-specific effect of the crisis. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), it already shows that even though women are disproportionately working in system relevant professions and more negatively affected by the consequences of the crisis, they are yet underrepresented in the decision-making process on crisis policies. Concerning the rise in domestic violence against women, the Commissioner once again urged the Member States to implement victim protection measures. Evelyn Regner, Chair of FEMM, also called for "half of the resources of the reconstruction fund to be allocated to women, as it is women who bear the brunt of the corona crisis", referring to a current petition.
... and minorities
In view of the crisis, minorities and the elderly are also especially under health and economic pressure. Last week, Helena Dalli and Vice-Commission Presidents Joseph Borell und Vera Jourová signed the joint UNO statement on the rights of persons with disabilities, which in view of crisis are often in a particularly vulnerable situation. According to Dalli, the Commission would continue to work on an ambitious strategy for persons with disabilities from 2021. Apart from that, MEPs of the FEMM Committee pointed out the need for action in view of the anti-LGBTIQ+ policies in Hungary and Poland and observations of age discrimination with regard to access to health care in different member states. Helena Dalli told MEPs that both the LGBTIQ+ and the Roma and Sinti strategy as well as mandatory measures on pay transparency would be – as planned - presented by the end of 2020. Previously a delay had been considered, which was also strongly opposed by AK President Renate Anderl in a letter to Commissioner Dalli.
Difficult start also for ELA
Jordi Curell, Interim Executive Director of the European Labour Authority (ELA), also visited the EMPL this week and discussed with MEPs the precarious situation of posted workers and seasonal workers in the current crisis. Improving the exchange of information is one of the priorities of ELA. ELA is pressing here to guarantee access to information for all workers. Corell also points out the importance of considering possible language barriers of posted workers and providing information on labour rights in different languages. In addition to this, a working group has been established to exchange good practice examples as to how posted workers could best be informed about their rights. ELA is also working on coordinated, cross-border labour inspections. However, due to current travel restrictions these are difficult to carry out and considerations are taking place as to how they can be carried out in times of the COVID-19 crisis. Among other examples, MEPs also addressed the situation in the German slaughter industry, which in many cases exploits posted workers from Eastern Europe. These injustices have come to light due to current reports in the media. The high precariousness of the workers is reflected in the lack of health protection and inhumane accommodation and working conditions.