European Union Social Rights and Social Policy.

European Social Charter

The European Social Charter is a Council of Europe treaty, which was adopted in 1961 [1] and revised in 1996. The Revised Charter came into force in 1999 and is gradually replacing the initial 1961 treaty. The Charter sets out human rights and freedoms and establishes a supervisory mechanism guaranteeing their respect by the States parties.

The Charter was established to support the European Convention on Human Rights, which is principally for civil and political rights, and to broaden the scope of protected fundamental rights to include social and economic rights. The Charter is also supposed to guarantee positive rights and freedoms, which concern all individuals in their daily existence. The basic rights set out in the Charter are as follows: housing, health, education, labour rights, full employment, reduction of working hours equal pay for equal work, parental leave, social security, social and legal protection from poverty and social exclusion, free movement of persons and non-discrimination, also the rights of migrant workers and that of the persons with disabilities.

This has been thrown up in the air with the refugee crisis, which exposes their so-called freedom to move or settle in European countries. It exposes the racism inherent within the EU.

Charter of 1961

It is supposed to have guaranteed, among other social and economic rights:

· employment protection rights, such as the right to work in a safe environment
· under just conditions for fair remuneration, and the right to organise and collectively bargain in trade unions;
· welfare rights, such as the protection of health, access to social and medical assistance, social security and social welfare services;
· special social, legal and economic protection for the disadvantaged and potentially socially excluded, such as children, mothers and families, the disabled, the old and migrant workers and their families.

Employment rights have not been protected and many jobs have been lost. On top of this severance payments and redundancies are either withheld or the statutory minimum have been avoided.

Trades unions have been challenged across Europe and rights to organise and join have been curbed. Britain has passed and is passing model legislation against Trades Unions.
Welfare has been cut across the board and the concept of a welfare state undermined throughout the EU. Also Health and social care, child-care and elderly care has been undercut and in some cases pushed out of existence.

‘Social Chapter’

The ‘Social Chapter’ is another name for the Protocol on Social Policy and the Agreement on Social Policy annexed to the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty). [2]

In essence, it provides a legislative tool by extending in an extremely limited way, qualified majority voting to some areas of social policy. It also retains unanimity for the most sensitive policies and explicitly excludes certain things, for example, there is no question of European legislation on minimum pay or trade union rights.
What are the key features of the ‘Social Chapter’?

1) In relation to the existing social provisions contained in the Treaty of Rome and the Single European act, qualified majority voting is extended only to:

– Equal opportunities;
– Working conditions;
– Information and consultation;
– Integration of those excluded from the labour market.

2) Unanimity is retained for:
– Social security;
– Dismissals;
– Employee representation;
– Employment of third-country nationals legally residing in the European Union;
– Financial contributions for promotion of employment and job-creation.

3) Pay and trade union rights are specifically excluded from the ambit of the ‘Social Chapter’.

Apart from a modest extension of qualified majority voting, what else is in the ‘Social Chapter’?

The ‘Social Chapter’ has changed, in a fundamental way, the legislative process. Any initiative from the Commission has to go through a two-stage consultation with the two sides of industry, before it even gets to the stage of being a legislative proposal. By the time a measure comes to the Council of Ministers, it has been thoroughly talked out. The views of employers and unions alike are well known to all involved. Thus, the ‘Social Chapter’ imposes a new discipline on legislators. They are able to take decisions with full knowledge of the views of management and labour. [3]

So, are there two different legal bases for the pursuit of social policy at European level ?

Yes – one applies across the Union and is based on the social provisions of the Treaty of Rome (Articles 117-127) and the other applies to 14 Member States and is based on the Agreement on Social Policy. [4]

What about the United Kingdom and its “opt-out” from the ‘Social Chapter’?

Britain signed the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act [5] and is part of European Union social legislation to date. As far as the European Works Councils’ Directive [6] and the Directive concerning Parental Leave and other equality law concerning men and women, [7] is concerned, Britain has manipulated its own interpretation of these Directives. They are the only pieces of European legislation, which have been adopted under the ‘Social Chapter’. It is worth noting that in the case of the Works Councils’ Directive, European legislation has only been voluntarily embraced by many large British monopolies for their own ends because they consider them good for business. For example, United Biscuits, Coats Viyella, National Westminster Bank, etc. consider co-operation to a degree as an assistance to the productivity and hence profitability of the workforce to them. [8]

European social legislation is not a rigid, harmonising force but a flexible set of minimum standards compatible with distinct and different models of social and industrial organisation. Britain shows a certain amount of respect for this but has had its own, distinctive labour market policy when compared with its European partners. Nevertheless there is not much to compare them with, as they are both pretty poor.

Is there any evidence that Britain is facing an unrelenting will to legislate from its EU partners?

Britain is part of the EU and it would appear that it is the biggest mouthpiece against social rights.

The objective evidence says no. The ‘Social Chapter’ does not constitute a blank cheque for a heavy legislative agenda, which would see Britain outvoted and forced into legislative rigidities to which it is opposed. The ‘Social Chapter’ is emphatically not a legislative agenda. It is a legal mechanism.

The Social ‘Partners’ at European level are currently negotiating on the issue of flexibility in working time and security for workers.

Separate directives exist concerning specific employee rights.

The Working Time Directive, 2003/88/EC, [9] is a Directive of the European Union. It gives EU workers the right to a minimum number of holidays each year, rest breaks, and rest of at least 11 hours in any 24 hours; restricts excessive night work; a day off after a week’s work; and provides for a right to work no more than 48 hours per week. It was issued as an update on earlier versions from 22 June 2000 and 23 November 1993. Since excessive working time is cited as a major cause of stress, depression and illness, the stated purpose of the Directive is to protect people’s health and safety.

There is no mass of legislation emanating from Brussels. The bulk of legislation, which regulates the labour market, is of national origin. European laws simply set down minimum standards for health and safety at work and deal with matters such as free movement of workers, equal rights for men and women at work and some labour law which deals with certain rights in specific situations such as collective dismissals, or where a company changes hands or when an employer becomes bankrupt.

The Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights for Workers, [10] adopted in 1989, established the major principles on which the European labour law model is based. It applies to the following areas:

· free movement of workers;
· employment and remuneration;
· improvement of working conditions;
· social protection;
· freedom of association and collective bargaining;
· vocational training;
· equal treatment for men and women;
· information, consultation and participation of workers;
· health protection and safety at the workplace;
· protection of children, adolescents, elderly persons, and disabled persons.

These social rights represent a foundation of minimum provisions common to all the European Union (EU) Member States. The provisions of the Charter were kept by the Lisbon Treaty (Article 151 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU) and by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.The problem is they are only a charter and not necessarily implemented. Free movement of workers is not necessarily a right but only re-asserts the capitalist conditions where labour is only free as far as it can move around to be exploited.

There is no right to employment enshrined in EU law and remuneration regarding fulfilment of the demands of workers to their claim on the social product is not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. Working conditions have deteriorated with enforced overtime and shift patterns [11], minimising of overtime enhancements, minimising in Health and safety, reduced holidays, low pay in some cases below statutory minimum levels and zero hour contracts alongside various workfare type schemes. Social protections such as sick pay invalidity and disabled benefit have been cut across Europe. [12].

Britain is one of the main member advocates and presents a worse case scenario. Freedom of association such as trade unionisation has led in many cases, still, of victimisation against representatives, shop stewards and workers in many circumstances. [13].

Joint negotiations through the break up of nationalised industries and large conglomerates has caused fragmentation of representation of workers. It has localised bargaining arrangements and torn up collective agreements and prevented common conditions from being adopted. Vocational training and apprenticeships has decreased overall with corresponding skill shortages and inability of many workers to enter into higher paid work. Discrimination between men and women has become greater in employment and in pay scales rather than declining. Since the heady days of demands for workers control in the 60’s and 70’s and input into management participation the decision-making process has gone into reverse. [14].

Once more workers are registering the issue of control and change is demanded. Monopoly right has trumped social right across Europe. The demands for proper Works’ Councils have receded and there is little or no implementation. There is hardly any information passed to workers and sometimes there is disinformation, often there is no consultation and where it exists it has become a rubber-stamping process. [15].

EU law is intent on abolishing Trade Union rights instead of protection. [16]. Young people and adolescents are not given any special attention or protection when attempting to commence work. Health and safety is neglected and training inadequate. Seniors are often discriminated against and their pensions attacked [17] as well as disabled and facility to cater for these sections is reduced.

All in all the provisions, directives, charters and protocols are pie in the sky and are a fraudulent word packages that have meant nothing for workers in the material world.

[1] Council of Europe,

[2] The Maastricht Treaty (formally, the Treaty on European Union or TEU) undertaken to integrate Europe was signed on 7 February 1992 by the members of the European Community in Maastricht, Netherlands.

The Social Chapter is a chapter of the 1997 covering social policy issues in European Union law. The Treaty of Amsterdam made substantial changes to the Treaty of Maastricht.

[3] Wiki

[4] Treaty Establishing the European Community as Amended by Subsequent Treaties
ROME, 25 March 1957. A conference led to the signature of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and the Euratom Treaty at the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill in Rome.

It was signed on 25 March 1957 by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. It should be noted that in 1951, the Treaty of Paris was signed, creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the forerunner of the EC (Common Market), which later became the EU. The aim was to pool Franco-West German coal and steel production, as these two raw materials were the basis of the industry (including war industry) and power of the two countries.

HR Net

[5] 1973, Britain Denmark and Ireland join the European Community all sign an accession treaty in 1972.

The Treaty (which included the Treaty of Rome) was signed by Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister, in Brussels on 22 January 1972. The European Communities Bill was then introduced in the House of Commons to give parliamentary assent to Britain’s membership of the EEC. Although the bill itself consisted of only 12 clauses (accepting all previous EEC regulations, the Treaty of Rome, and the terms of entry), it was subject to some 300 hours of debate before becoming law.

Britain’s membership of what was then primarily an economic union came into effect on 1 January 1973.

[6] Directive 2009/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 May 2009 on the establishment of a European Works Council or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings for the purposes of informing and consulting employees.

[7] 32006L0054: Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation.

[8] Wiki

[9] Access to European Union law;

Britain under the Major Government declared an opt-out from the cap on 48 hours.

In 2000 the Working Time Directive was amended:

Article 3 on Daily Rest states: “…every worker is entitled during each 24 hour period, to a minimum rest period of eleven hours consecutively…” Put the other way you work 13 hours a day, sleep say 8 hours which leaves 3 hours to eat, relax, and, travel to and from work. Further, Article 5 on Weekly Rest: “…every worker receives during each seven day period, a minimum of twenty-four hours uninterrupted rest…” There is now no stipulation that Sunday should be a rest day as it was in the 1993 version of the Directive. The following sentence had been deleted: “The minimum rest period … shall in principle include Sunday…”. Holidays like Christmas Day are also classified as normal working days.

The upper limit is not just a straight 48 hours each week. The 48 hours is the average taken over a 4-month period. This means some weeks you can work 32 hours and other weeks 56 to 58 hours and be on call as required. Now there is talk of the annualisation of hours where average hours are spread over one year, which could well mean wider disparities in hours worked. This could amount to being laid off for six months and working all hours the rest of the year – very convenient for employers in times of a recession. On top of all this there are plenty of opt-outs from the 48 hour cap based on a host of exceptions to the rules.

It should be carefully noted that the French Labour Code had a general 35-hour week with a maximum of ten hours a day compared with 13 in the Directive. Two days rest were stipulated including Sunday which was sacrosanct in French law. The Directive and French President have used the Directive to undermine and challenge the French Labour Code.

The objective of the Directive is to extort maximum exploitation by sweeping away national laws and conditions, which have been negotiated, struggled for and won by trade unions and others.

Source: Campaign against Euro-Federalism

[10] Access to European Union law;

[11] Britain, as a EU member state, has numerous examples of breaking or attempting to break the working time directive. The EU gives loopholes for shift workers and essential operatives such as emergency services, health workers etc. In Britain Tata Jaguar have incorporated strings into their wage agreements for compulsory Saturday working and shift alterations. GKN have demanded compulsory extensions to the working week. All working week reductions were established through class struggle in Britain prior to the EU ‘Working Time Directive’. The last time it was forced through was in the “Unite for 35” the 35 hour week campaign by the TUC and union led “Confederation of Engineering and Ship-build unions versus the Engineering Employers’ Federation in 1979. The forerunner organisation of UNITE; the AUEW; was the leading Trade Union in the fight.

[12] Social spending is decreasing across Europe according to EurActiv France reports.

In the wake of the 2009 economic crisis, EU member states imposed spending cuts on social protection.

From 2009 to 2012, almost every country reduced spending, according to a report by the French Directorate for Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (DREES).

The European Commission indicated in 2010 and 2011 that social protection spending, relative to GDP, was decreasing, despite moderate economic growth.

[13] French trade unions were up in arms Wednesday 13 January 2016 when eight workers of a closed Goodyear tyre factory were sentenced to jail during a dispute over the closure of the plant. Workers accused the French government of being behind a court’s decision to send the workers to jail for nine months with a further 15 months suspended.

The leader of France’s CGT union federation, Philippe Martinez, dubbed the decision “scandalous and unjust” and claimed that the “whole union movement is under attack”, following the court’s decision Tuesday.

“This is a tough message – and not of the right kind – that the government is sending to people fighting to keep their jobs,” Martinez told LCI television.

[14] Nationalised industries and large conglomerate fragmentation of representation of workers; it was true of British Leyland when the act of negotiating took place in sectors like Jaguar, Rover Triumph. It broke up the shop steward Combine committee of the 1970’s.

The latest break up of union national bargaining has recently occurred in education and the formation of schools run by Academy Trusts and freeschools as well as those more recently built private schools.

British Leyland introduced workers’ participation after a series of struggles in the 1970’s but was abandoned after Convener Derek Robinson was sacked. Workers’ control issues were alive in Britain and influenced Works’ Councils in Britain, where they originally were shop stewards organisations in local factories; the EU adapted them. Famous Works Councils were at British Leyland, Castle Bromwich Works, formerly Pressed Steel Fisher and Jaguar.

Workers control was made famous during the 1970’s with Jimmy Reed’s Upper Clyde the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in between June 1971 and October 1972 Shipyard Occupation as well as Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT) motor cycle manufacturers. NVT, with a program of works closures, decided to concentrate production on Wolverhampton and Small Heath. The announcement caused a sit-in at Meriden. With the election of the 1974 Labour government, the Meriden workers’ co-operative was formed with NVT its sole customer for its production of 750 cc Triumph Bonneville T140V and Triumph Tiger TR7V models. In July 1975. Industry Minister Eric Varley, recalled a loan for £4 million and refused to renew the company’s export credits. The company went into receivership, and redundancies were announced for all of the staff at the various sites. Its Wolverhampton plant closed on 13 October that year with some 1,600 job losses. The Meriden site survived on Eric Varley’s predecessor, Tony Benn’s plan to exploit the Triumph Bonneville by a worker co-operative with a substantial government loan. The Norton Wankel project was sold off by the receivers into private hands.

Vocational training and apprenticeships has decreased since most CBI firms cut training during the 1980’s and Thatcher’s one year apprenticeships and skills centre programmes, now ceased, replaced quality apprenticeships.

[15] The most recent issue of Manager Magazin reports that more than 10,000 jobs are in danger of being cut at German, Volkswagen.

Volkswagen still want 10 percent growth in profits in the current year, which will require productivity measures and thousands of job cuts.

According to the Manager Magazin article, Diess wants to raise “efficiency”—by which he means he wants to cut costs—by 10 percent in all areas, in production it means intensifying the working day and lengthening it.

Diess will most likely begin his austerity offensive in the component plants in Germany.

Jobs cut also depends on the fallout from the revelations about the companies fraudulent manipulation of gas emissions tests.It is being used for shock measures.

The corporation says cuts of the “dimensions reported” are not under discussion.

Volkswagen corporate works council head Bernd Osterloh also spoke on the issue: “Economic efficiency and employment are equally important goals at Volkswagen,” he said. For the employees, this means that they would have to “actively take part in the growth of productivity.” A precondition for this is the guarantee from the corporation that their jobs are secure and will remain so.

Originally, Diess and Bernd Osterloh, chairman of the General works council at Volkswagen, had agreed to carry out the austerity course amicably and collaboratively. To this end, the works council had presented its own austerity package.

The emissions scandal has still not had serious consequences in this respect.

The Volkswagen Corporation announced its first sales decline in more than a decade last year. In 2015, sales at Europe’s largest auto maker sank by two percent to 9.93 million vehicles.

Volkswagen is also having a hard time in Europe; all producers put together in the previous year sold more cars. In December alone, passenger car sales numbers rose in the European Union by almost 17 percent. At Volkswagen, they only rose around five present, reported the producer association Acea. This represents a loss in market share by 22 percent.

In the middle of November, Diess and Osterloh announced in a joint interview that there would be “losses” to the special bonuses given to the employees.

One month later, in December, Volkswagen reported that the contracts of 600 casual workers at the Zwickau location would be phased out in two stages. Osterloh and the works councils are keeping the casual workers quiet until then. The works councils claim that they are negotiating possible replacement jobs for these workers within the company.

It all signals the beginning of mass layoffs, wage cuts and a drastic worsening of working conditions.

There will be further, more drastic cuts for the approximately 120,000 permanent Volkswagen workers at one location after another.

[16] The European Commission launched a Green Paper calling for the abolition of trade union rights as we know them.

The Green Paper, ominously called “Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century”.

However, the Green Paper ignores any value of social cohesion or consensus reached between organised labour and employers in the member states and casually opts to put an end to collective bargaining and for the complete atomisation of workers.

The Vaxholm case also directly challenges trade union collective bargaining rights. This particular case concerns Latvian firm Laval operating in Sweden using low-cost Latvian labour in contravention of Swedish law. Swedish workers took industrial action in protest, arguing that the company had breached Swedish laws as pay and conditions are determined through collective agreements.

The European Commission openly backs the Latvian firm’s social union-busting activities and claims that Swedish labour laws contravene article 49 of the EU treaties on free movement.

Source: Campaign against Euro-federalism, author Brian Denny.

[17] 23 January 2016

In Greece, an increasing number of professional groups are protesting against the planned pension cuts. Sailors are striking the ferry service, doctors and lawyers have demonstrated on Syntagma Square and angry farmers have repeatedly paralysed major public transport hubs for days.

On Wednesday and Thursday sailors took strike action and virtually paralysed the entire ferry service. On Thursday, the sailors marched to the Ministry of Shipping, where employees also are on strike. The sailors’ trade union PNO announced the next 48-hour strike for January 27-28.The plans involve future cuts in pensions of up to 30 percent. The only protection afforded is to a minimum pension of €384. In addition, contributions to the pension fund are to be raised significantly. In future, farmers will have to pay 20 percent instead of 7 percent of their income. Social Security payments are expected to increase for both employers and employees. Some self-employed workers must reckon with contribution increases of more than 100 percent.

World Socialist Website

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