Saturday

2nd Mar 2024

Interview

Hits and misses of EU workplace and jobs legislation

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The world of work is changing. The green and digital transitions pose new challenges for employers and employees, and those fast-paced shifts are hitting policymakers, who are trying to keep up with new rules and guidelines for EU member states to make job opportunities and skill sets fit for purpose.

A living minimum wage, and new pay transparency rules to tackle gender discrimination, have been some of the most talked-about files of this current parliament (2019-2024). Some others, however, are at risk of losing political momentum as the run-up to the June 2024 elections is fast approaching, and the clock for closing files is ticking.

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  • The Uber model could be extended to cleaning or care for the elderly, losing workers their rights, the MEP fears (Photo: acanyi)

EUobserver talked to Dutch MEP Agnes Jongerius, Socialists & Democrats (S&D) spokesperson for employment, to have a look at past and future challenges of the Parliament's work from the social and labour perspectives.

Here's the overview ahead of the 2024 EU elections.

From the employment perspective, what have been the greatest successes over this mandate?

Agnes Jongerius: I think if you look back at the first speech of Ursula von der Leyen, when she wanted to become the EU Commission's president, you can see quite a lot of our election manifesto and of the campaign of Frans Timmermans. She was talking about equal pay for men and women. She promised in the speech that in the first 100 days, the proposal around transparency would be on the table. It took a bit longer. But it's finished, and now it's up to the member states to transpose it to national legislation.

Von der Leyen talked about women, that they should also be represented at board level, and that she would personally try to unblock the directive. That was also one of the demands of our political family, and she built her speech around that.

She also mentioned the fact that too many workers in the European Union had problems paying their bills at the end of the month. She was talking about in-work poverty, a phenomenon that we knew, of course, from the United States. Frans had also been campaigning around that, and it led to the minimum wage directive.

Von der Leyen also mentioned the fact that too many workers are unprotected, like the workers of the Big Tech platforms. So if you look at the speech, and you see a lot of similarities with our election manifesto and Timmermans' campaign, I think you can say that we were active and pushing.

And the most complex legislative files?

The minimum wage was quite difficult. There were a lot of people who said: "This is not a European competence, you should not be involved in this". At the time, the employers' organisations threw a lot of legal opinions on the table, so it was also, let's say, a battle of legal opinions. Although in the end we were able to have a fairly ambitious directive on minimum wages and how member states should assess their adequacy. I'm quite proud of that.

When we talk about future challenges, if you want to have a proper legal text before the elections, the vote should be in the first week of February. It can be later, but then you'll have to vote on a preliminary text, then the legal scrubbing will take place over the summer months, and then the new parliament will have to vote on a 'corrigendum'. So we have four months, more or less, to get a lot of legislation done.

And I think that the platform directive is the most challenging one. Also, because the parliament and Council have quite different point of views, and there is a huge amount of lobbying going on. Last week in the employment committee, Dragos Pislaru [Renew Europe], the chair of the committee, said that if only the platforms would use the money they are now using to advertise and lobby to proper pay their workers, that would really make a difference.

On the other hand, I think it's also challenging and important to reach an agreement because now we can see how many people are working for Uber, or how many people are working for Bolt, but how big is this group of people?

If people in the most vulnerable parts of the labour market see their managers saying you don't work for me, you get your service through an IT platform, for example in the retail sector, and people are offered to work in a shop for a specific day and a specific period of time, and that's enough for an employer not to treat them as a worker and not to offer them social protection, a collective agreement and so on. Then in the cleaning sector, in the elderly-care sector, they could all say let's use an app. If that is enough for people to lose their basic workers' rights, then we really have a very big problem in the labour market. So it's important that we are able to finish this file.

Is there any important piece of legislation that could lose political momentum if not passed before the EU elections? Apart from the platform workers directive.

Last mandate, we were not able to finish the [modernisation of the] coordination of social security systems. Just before the [2019] elections, we had the parliament's position, trilogues had already started, and then in the end I think the council didn't agree with the proposal from the trilogues. Since then, my colleague Gabriele Bischoff have talked to every presidency to restart conversations, and finish this file.

I must say I really admire her because she still hasn't given up. So it would be effort upset if it wasn't finished before this mandate, although it's complicated.

And I don't know whether we are losing momentum or not, but from an employment point of view, we have a skin in the game of economic governance. Because the scope for social policy, the scope for social investment, the scope for making the European Pillar of Social Rights a reality is also defined by how strict the rules are for governments from the proposal of economic governance.

In the work programme for 2024, the commission promised a revision of the European Works Council, and in a previous work programme they also announced the quality traineeships. And they won't be finished in this mandate, although I think it's important to put them on the table and to start working on them.

As for the disability card, I do not think we need to lose any political momentum. We are planning to finalise it perhaps even during the Spanish presidency (to December 2023), but otherwise at the latest during the Belgian presidency (from January 2024).

And having a look into the future, what needs to be done in the next parliamentary cycle?

There is an overflow from this mandate to the next. As I said, the European Works Council file will not be finished. Quality traineeships will not be finished. And I hope that economic governance and the Platform Workers directive will be finished.

However, when I look at the next mandate, AI at work is indeed an issue that I hope we can address. I don't think we've seen anything yet, so we really need to use all the clear heads around this issue to see what's coming.

I also hope that we will continue to push for, let's say, the work around the European Pillar of Social Rights — for example on minimum income and poverty, because there is a target around poverty that is not yet within reach.

At least I would argue that we should also take on board Pillar 20, which is about accessible public services, especially as we have seen that in too many Member States affordable housing is a really big problem, especially for young people. I bought my first house 30 years ago, so nobody should feel sorry for me. But if you have to get on the housing market now, it is very difficult. Affordable housing will be part of our campaign and we should see how we can use European policies for affordable housing.

Apart from that, I think another important issue will be how we can use public money to push for decent and sustainable jobs. For example, how can we change the public procurement directive to help those countries that want to allocate public money to good and sustainable jobs?

There is so much money floating around. If you really use these conditionalities, you can push for it.

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