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close this bookThe Courier N 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
close this folderEurope
close this folderThe European social area
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSocial policy measures for the achievement of the internal market
View the documentSocial policy measures with regard to economic and social cohesion
View the documentMeasures to promote employment and solidarity
View the documentDialogue between management and labour
View the documentThe European Social Charter


The Community in 1993

In a year’s time, the Community will enter a decisive phase in its construction, with the effective creation of the Single Market and, most notably, the abolition of internal frontiers. It will lead to a considerable change in the daily life of the Community citizen. While for a number of years, industrialists, bankers and certain other professions have enjoyed the positive advantages of the lowered internal frontiers, this has not been the case for other categories of profession, notably in the social area.

It was for this reason that, in conformity with the aims of the Single Act, the Commission put in place a ‘social base’ which was intended to set out minimum Community norms in the framework of the social area of the Single Market of 1993. This ‘social area of the Single Market’, which is the name of the programme presented by the Commission in 1988, is based on various considerations. On the administrative side, for example, it appeared to be impossible to draw a neat dividing line between the national and Community levels of competence. By the same token, working conditions in the different Member States are set out in legislation and in collective agreements negotiated by the social partners. The proportion of legislative provisions and collectively agreed measures varies somewhat from one country to another, and these differences could not be abolished without difficulty. Accordingly, it became evident that there was a need for the organisation of the European social area. To create and manage this area, the Community employed legal instruments to the extent that these did not undermine the freedom of manoevre of the social partners who are given a role in the process of implementing the European social area, under Article 188 B of the EEC Treaty. A programme emerged from this: the implementation of the ‘social base’. However, it appears that harmonisation of national provisions will not be achieved in all areas by 1993.

Set out below are the principal elements of the text concerning the establishment of the European social area. The text has seen, since its publication in 1990, numerous improvements with the adoption of the Schengen agreement as well as other measures pertaining to workers’ rights in the Community of 1993.

We also reproduce some important statistics from ‘A Social Portait of Europe’ (The Statistical Office of the European Communities - EUROSTAT) published in 1991.

Social policy measures for the achievement of the internal market

The Commission’s proposals, which are directly linked to the achievement of the internal market, should be divided into three groups.

An important area is the fmal removal of existing barriers to freedom of movement and freedom of establishment. The Commission’s position is based on the case-law of the European Court of Justice. All remaining travel and residence restrictions for workers from Member States and their families are to be removed.

Freedom of movement in the public service

Proposals that nationals of other Member States should be allowed to work in publicly owned companies will probably lead to lengthy, tough negotiations in the Council of Ministers. Although this is already practised in part in some Member States, there is still much that remains to be done in many places. Again, the Commission is basing its position on rulings of the European Court of Justice, which has repeatedly interpreted Article 48(4) of the EEC Treaty in a very restrictive fashion. This Article states that the general freedom of movement does not apply to employment in the public service. Strictly speaking, this could be taken to mean that employees in the public service and civil servants should always have the nationality of the country in which they work.

However, the European Court of Justice came to the conclusion that this exception can apply only to employees in the public service and civil servants, whose employment is connected with the exercise of sovereignty. The Commission intends to abolish systematically the current practice of certain Member States, under which only their own citizens are employed. Liberal employment practices are to be applied in public transport services, gas works, power stations, postal and telecommunications services, broadcasting and companies engaged in air, sea or rail transport. The extension of such a liberalisation to public health services, schools and universities, as well as civil public research institutes is also envisaged. Furthermore, the idea of giving access to the teaching profession in another Community country to those Community citizens who have completed teacher training is currently under consideration.

Migrant workers and other cross-border commuters

Workers, unemployed persons or persons receiving an early retirement pension, if they move to another Community country, are often worried because of uncertainty about their legal position. There are serious doubts about the rights to which they are entitled. Current Community law stipulates that unemployed persons must remain in the country of their most recent employment, as State support is not transferable abroad. The Commission considers that this situation must be changed. If an unemployed Community citizen moves to another Member State because he/she hopes to find employment more easily there, that person should retain his/her acquired rights. This should also apply to benefits from early retirement schemes.

Workers who live in one Member State, but are employed a short distance away in a different Community country, can be at a disadvantage when it comes to the taxation of income. In 1979, the Commission presented a proposal to the Council of Ministers, which provided for the taxation of the income of cross-border commuters under the laws of the Member State in which the person concerned is resident.

Support schemes

In this context it should be pointed out that the existing schemes for promoting freedom of movement, such as ‘Erasmus’, ‘Comett’ and ‘Youth for Europe’ are important instruments of internal market policy. In addition, the Commission plans a programme of action for promoting and improving the teaching of foreign languages in the Community. In the spring of 1989 the Council adopted the Lingua programme, which will help to increase the knowledge of foreign languages on the part of workers those on vocational training courses.

Effects on employment

The effects of internal market policy on employment are under constant consideration. Enquiries will concentrate on the sectoral level, and close attention will have to be paid to branches of industry which are already experiencing more or less serious difficulties.

Social policy measures with regard to economic and social cohesion

Social policy has thus at its disposal three novel instruments which have already been described in some detail. However, the programme for shaping the social area of the Community comprises not only new instruments and measures as yet untried; the Community will also make use of the instruments which have been created in the 30 years since it was established in Rome.

The reform of the Structural Funds

The decision to double the resources of the Regional Fund and the Social Fund which was finally taken at the special summit held in February 1988 in Brussels, was a crucial element of Community social policy. The Structural Funds help to improve the economic and social cohesion of the Community. After the available resources had been fixed for five years, the Commission and the Council of Ministers adopted specific provisions for the operation of the Funds. Both institutions are responsible for ensuring improved coordination between the two Funds.

Education policy

By supporting the exchange of information and experience, the Commission is helping to improve the level of education in the Community. The most important target group in this work is those young people who find it difficult to integrate into working life. The Commission proposes that the entitlement to educational leave be introduced throughout the Community in order to give all workers the chance to improve their professional qualifications.

It is planned to conduct a programme of action for adult education, which will be targeted, first and foremost, at workers in small and medium-sized companies. A similar scheme is planned for young people in order to help them to integrate more easily into working life. Following a suggestion from the Council of 1 December 1987, the Commission is drawing up a European policy on education initiatives. The aim is to produce vocational training measures which will be available in all the Member States and will help young people to acquire entrepreneurial skills.

Eurotecnet is a scheme which has been running since 1983 and is designed to promote vocational education in the field of new information technologies. New developments in this sector are first investigated and then passed on to interested parties in the most effective way possible.

Measures for harmonising working conditions and industrial relations in line with progress

Hygiene, safety and health protection al work. The Commission has drawn up six proposals for Directives on the improvement of safety and conditions at work, and presented them to the Council of Ministers. Many additional proposals will follow. All of the proposals fall under Article 118A of the EEC Treaty. After consulting management and labour and small and medium-sized firms in committees, the Council will reach a decision on the proposals by qualified majority.

An example would be the proposal of 24 April 1988, in which the Commission proposed minimum requirements for safety and health protection for work with visual display units. In the same year the Commission drew up a proposal for a Directive, which provides for workers in all Member States who handle heavy loads to be protected from the risk of back injury.

Furthermore, the Commission considers it necessary to introduce a series of rules for the reduction of major’ risks in shipping, fishing, agriculture and the building industry. In the area of health protection and hygiene, it seems appropriate to protect all workers in the Community against carcinogenic, biological and chemical substances at their place of work and to take the necessary steps to improve occupational medicine. In this context, it is essential that workers be informed about potential dangers resulting from the substances with which they come into contact at work. On the one hand, there must be suitable programmes to ensure that workers are informed of potential danger areas and, on the other, specialists with responsibility in this field will have to be appointed to official bodies or directly in firms.

Possible proposals for other provisions of labour legislation and company law. The Commission is not only considering minimum requirements which are valid throughout the Community and are directly connected to conditions at work, but also intends to propose general rules governing the basic rights of workers. In this way, account is to be taken of new developments resulting from the completion of the internal market, changes in the labour market and different recruitment practices. Workers are, for example, to be protected against the social hardship which could result from the growing mobility of firms.

The Commission plans, inter alia, to introduce a code of conduct for the protection of pregnant women and mothers.

The involvement of workers in the management of companies which operate on an international basis is a particularly contentious issue. As early as 1970, the Commission had drawn up a proposal for the articles of association for a European joint stock company, and the terms for worker participation. In the summer of 1989, the Ministers for Economic Affairs, who are responsible for questions of internal market policy, were presented with a Commission proposal on the articles of association of European companies, which had been redrafted many times. Following numerous Council meetings it became apparent in 1989 that films affectedd by the provisions governing European joint stock companies will be offered a choice between three types of co-management, namely:

· worker participation m company management through a body in which the personnel are represented, and which is independent of other company organisations;

· worker participation anchored in a collective wage agreement between management and labour;

· worker participation by the appointment of workers to seats on the board of directors.

Workers’ representatives should occupy at least one-third and not more than half of the seats. This alternative corresponds to, among others, the German scheme of worker participation.

The European Parliament contributed to the discussion at the end of the 1980s with a scheme that had been the subject of lengthy debates in the Parliament 10 years before. The proposal provides for the board of directors to be made up of one-third representatives of the shareholders and one-third representatives of the workers. The remaining one-third would be elected by these two groups. The Commission gave little support to this scheme, partly because of reservations over constitutional law.

At the suggestion of the European Council of June 1988 in Hanover, the Commission started work on a detailed comparative analytical study of working conditions and industrial relations in the Member States. The results of the survey will form the basis for new Commission initiatives and proposals.

The systems of financing social security, which vary considerably between the Member States, will be subjected to more thorough study and analysis. This should show the effects of these differences on the completion of the internal market. In Denmark, for example, a considerable part of the social services is financed from taxation revenue, whereas in most of the other Member States social services are financed from monthly contributions paid by employees and employers.

Measures to promote employment and solidarity

In spite of the many economic advantages which the completion of the internal market will bring, the fight against the continuing high levels of unemployment will still be one of the main tasks of politicians at national and Community level. The priority is to continue existing programmes. The Commission will produce more analyses of regional and sectoral developments, the necessary information for which will be provided by the regular reports on the labour market situation in the Member States. The main elements of employment policy are the ongoing programmes of action at local level (since 1986), measures to promote female employment, and the programme of action for the longterm unemployed which was requested by the Council in 1986 and set in motion at the end of 1988.

This programme studies the wide variety of experience in the Member States and examines interesting projects. On the basis of the results of the studies, there will be an exchange of information and advice. Equally important will be the achievement of further reductions in youth unemployment. The Helios programme is designed to foster the social and economic integration of handicapped people.

Dialogue between management and labour

The particular responsibility of employers and employees has been referred to on many occasions. In its action programme, the Commission suggests two ways in which management and labour can create a ‘Europe of industrial relations’. At European level, the social dialogue should cover subjects of general internal market policy, such as social security, equality of treatment, training and further training. It is also considered desirable that contacts be decentralised to the sectoral level. In this way, the agreements reached during the Val Duchesse discussions could be fleshed out and implemented at the level of Member States, branches or particularly affected areas.

In view of the considerable changes faced by economies in the industrial technological and social spheres, the two sides of industry have an important part to play in regulating the process of completing the internal market. Management and labour must recognise that they share the responsibility for dealing with these changes. This must also be accepted at sectoral level. Both sides of industry must overcome any internal differences and inconsistencies. The Commission cannot be expected to do this. As the representatives of employers’ and employees’ organisations are partly responsible for shaping the social dimension, it is imperative that they break with old traditions and learn to think in new ways.

An intensive exchange of ideas between management and labour, governments and the Commission can be beneficial in this process.

The European Social Charter

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 Community’s 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 Commission’s 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.