|The Courier N° 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)|
|The European social area|
Background to the Social Charter
Three months after being asked by the Commission to draw up a European Charter of basic social rights, the Economic and Social Committee presented, in February 1989, the opinion for which it had been asked. The representatives of employers, workers, the professions, farmers and small and medium-sized businesses as members of the Economic and Social Committee described the framework of the fundamental Community social rights, a framework which they felt should be set up with an eye to the completion of the internal market.
This opinion was adopted by a large majority, 135 votes for and 22 against. Whereas, in the draft stage, the emphasis was on a solution at Community level, the text finally adopted by the Commission stressed in several places the role of the Member States and their responsibility. Furthermore, the question of how these social rights were to be introduced in the Community remained open.
In March 1989, the European Parliament, in a resolution on the social dimension of the single market, likewise called for a major political gesture in the social field, a field which has been somewhat neglected in the process of setting up the single market of 1993.
Basing itself on international agreements and the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee, the Commission presented, in May 1989, a preliminary draft of the Social Charter. The Commission felt that it was imperative to take account in drafting these fundamental social rights of possible attacks on these rights and the risks arising out of the opening of the Communitys internal frontiers.
In June 1989, the preliminary draft of the Social Charter was discussed by the meeting within the Council of Ministers responsible for labour and social affairs.
It was subsequently the subject of wide-ranging consultations with the two sides of industry and finally became the draft Social Charter which the Commission adopted in September 1989.
The European Ministers for Labour and Social Affairs discussed the final draft in the following month and the European Council of Heads of State or Government, meeting in Strasbourg, solemnly adapted it in December 1989, at the same time instructing the Commission to submit to it, before 1990, an action programme and a set of legal instruments whereby it might be implemented.
The content of the Social Charter
The Social Charter defines the fundamental social rights of citizens of the European Community, in particular of workers, whether employed or self-employed.
The Charter lays down the major principles relating to the following rights:
· The right to freedom of movement
This right enables citizens of the European Community to establish them selves and to exercise any occupation in any of the Member States on the same terms as those applying to the nationals of the host country.
This right is thus concerned mainly with freedom movement, freedom of establishment, equal treatment, and the working conditions and social protection guaranteed to nationals of the host country.
This right also implies that endeavours be continued to harmonise conditions of residence, especially as regards the reuniting of families and the elimination of obstacles deriving from the lack of equivalence of diplomas.
· The right to employment and remuneration
This principle acknowledges that any citizen of the Community has the right to employment and to fair remuneration for that employment.
The right to remuneration also aims at the establishment of a decent basic wage, receipt of a fair wage and the guarantee of an equitable reference wage for workers who are not in full-time employment of indefinite duration, and the maintenance of adequate means of subsistence in the event of attachment of wages.
· The right to improved living and working conditions
This right, which is concerned with the development of the single market and, above all, the labour market, aims at the harmonisation of the working and living conditions of Community citizens while endeavours continue to improve these.
It is concerned mainly with the organisation and flexibility of working time (maximum working time, part-time work, fixed-duration employment, temporary employment, weekend work, shift work, annual leave, weekly or regular rest periods, etc.) and the approximation of the various labour regulations in force in the Community (collective redundancy procedures, declaration and settlement of bankruptcies, etc.).
· The right to social protection
This right aims at ensuring all citizens of the Community, whatever their status, adequate social protection by guaranteeing a minimum wage to workers and appropriate social assistance for persons excluded from the labour market and those who lack adequate means of subsistence.
· The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining
This principle recognises the right of all employers and all workers in the European Community to join professional organisations freely.
Apart from that, it also implies recognition of the freedom to bargain and conclude collective agreements between the two sides of industry and, in the event of conflicts of interest, to resort to collective action such as, for example, strikes.
· The right to vocational training
Every worker in the European Community has the right to continue his or her vocational training throughout their working life.
This right implies, in particular, the organisation of training leave enabling Community citizens to be retrained or to acquire additional skills by talking advantage of the facilities for continuing and permanent training which the public authorities, companies and the two sides of industry are called on to set up.
· The right of men and women to equal treatment
This right covers far more than equal pay for men and women performing the same work.
It aims at ensuring equal treatment as regards access to an occupation, social protection, education, vocational training and career opportunities.
· The right to worker information, consultation and participation
This principle covers the right of workers, especially those employed in undertakings established in several Member States, to be informed and even consulted about major events affecting the life of the undertaking and likely to have an impact on working conditions and the maintenance of employment.
· The right to health and safety protection at the workplace
The adaption of this principle acknowledges that every worker has the right to satisfactory health and safety conditions at his or her place of work. This implies that adequate measures must be taken to harmonise and improve the conditions pertaining in the individual Member States.
· The right to protection of children and adolescents.
This principle sets the minimum working age at 16 and gives young people in employment the right to a fair wage, to be covered by the labour regulations which take account of their specific characteristics and also to embark, after completion of statutory schooling, upon two years of vocational training.
· The rights of elderly persons
Any person who has reached retirement, or early retirement, age is entitled to receive a pension enabling him or her to maintain a decent standard of living.
This principle also grants to retired persons who are not entitled to a pension, the right to a minimum income, to social protection and both social and medical assistance.
· The rights of disabled persons
Every disabled person has the right to take advantage of specific measures, especially in the field of training and occupational and social integration and rehabilitation.
Implementation of the Social Charter
Implementation of the Social-Charter depends mainly on the Member States, or the entities which constitute them and which are responsible for the field of social affairs, and also on the two sides of industry in so far as it is up to them to conclude collective agreements at national, regional, sectoral or company level.
The part to be played by the Commission is also important, as is shown by the instructions given to it by the European Council of Heads of State or Government meeting in Strasbourg to submit by the end of December 1989 an action programme and a series of Community legal instruments governing the implementation of these social rights.
In addition, the principle of subsidiarily enables the Community to act when the aims to be achieved may be more effectively attained at Community level than at Member State level. However, the Commission cannot exceed the powers conferred upon it by the Treaty of Rome, amended by the Single Act, and the action it will take thus covers only a part of the measures to be taken to implement the Social Charter.
The Commissions role will be mainly to put forward proposals for Directives, regulations, decisions and recommendations or to submit communications which point out to the Member States or the entities which constitute them, where the latter are responsible for the management of social policy, how the Social Chatter might be implemented.
In this way the Commission will impart the maximum coherence to the various national and regional initiatives. Such coherence is indeed vital, for we know that the social aspects of the development of the 1993 single market are as important as its economic aspects and that these two fields must necessarily be developed in a balanced and convergent manner if that single market is to be a complete success.