European Labour Authority: official opening in Bratislava

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The European Labour Authority, ELA has a fundamental role in promoting and enforcing fairness in the European single market and labour mobility in the EU-27. In the speech at the opening ceremony, the Commissioner Nicolas Schmit revealed the future of labour market, the ELA’s role and approaches to numerous challenges and opportunities. Ongoing global megatrends, e.g. circular, green and digital transitions, globalisation and demographic change are having deep impact on jobs and social rights in the EU.

As the EU political leadership required, recovery and resilience plans in the member states have to be “green, digital and fair, ensuring decent jobs, fairer working conditions, better healthcare and better balance in people’s lives”. The European economy presently is on the road to recovery: GDP in more than half of the EU member states is expected to return to pre-crisis levels by the end of 2021.
Europe’s strengths lie in its unique model of a social market economy; the ELA is an important actor and promoter to uphold and strengthen this model it. Most vital is that the ELA promotes trust and confidence between the member states, the EU institutions and also between social partners, i.e. workers, employers and governments; it is one of EU’s major strengths in integration, as it is built on rules on the one hand, and on trust and conference on the other.
Modern trends are having enormous impact on attitudes towards work, working conditions and work-life balance. Some of the challenges and answers revealed by the Commissioner are discussed below.

= Facing labour shortages. In the post-pandemic time, instead of rushing back to their former employment, some workers have set new goals; they are having new priorities in lives and a clear desire for better working conditions. Although, only time will tell how the labour market and its employers will react to these new demands; but one thing is clear: labour relationships will never be the same.
In this regard, the European Pillar of Social Rights represents a tangible reality for citizens and workers: the Pillar’s action plan (with its headline targets on employment, skills, combating poverty and social exclusion), remains for the EU and the states as a vital “social compass” in the progressive paths to recovery.

= Youth’s issues. The EU has designated 2022 the European Year of Youth with the idea of EU-states’ co-creating a year’s activities with young people and youth organisations involved. In each event during the year the states’ authorities are supposed to listen to what the youth has to say and reflect their ideas in the policy-making.
For example, travelling is a priority for youth with an ultimate goal to make Europe without borders and assisting youth in getting opportunities wherever they can. Thus, the EU’s ALMA program*) will focus on young people who are often not reached, who find themselves marginalized from society.
*) The program started in September 2020 and will run for two years, until August 2024; the program ideas are, e.g. to create the groundwork for developing algorithms, methods and systems to better understand the principles of generalization in algebraic machine learning (AML) and the ability to combine it with other machine learning techniques.
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During the year, the states will have to reach for those who are often forgotten, as well as for inclusive and strong civil societies in the member states. The EU will strive to create a more sustainable and reliable world of work in the member states as people need to feel secure in organising their working-family’s lives; this is particularly true for young people, who very often have to face precarious working conditions.

= Protecting livelihoods and employment. Commissioner for jobs and social rights noted that the EU acted fast during the pandemic to protect livelihoods and save jobs. Thus, the European SURE program, for example, is supporting national short-term work schemes thanks to the first ever EU social bonds. This coordinated project, in solidarity with the states’ actions, has so far benefitted around 2.5 million companies and 31 million people.
In September 2021, eurozone unemployment stood at 7.4%, down from 8.6% one year earlier. In perspective, the member states have to continue to protect people in the new world of work and to provide them with stability and prospects. Actually, it means: higher wages, higher health and safety standards, greater social protection as well as more training opportunities so that lifelong learning becomes the norm.
Currently, there are 13.5 million EU citizens living in another member state, including almost 10 million of people at working age. By living and working in another country, mobile citizens can enrich their professional and personal lives, fill skill gaps at all levels, support entrepreneurship, spread new ideas and knowledge, and encourage innovation.

= Financial stimulus. By creating the largest ever EU financial stimulus package, worth €1.8 trillion, the EU has ensured an inclusive recovery transition in the member states. Thus, two main programs (the NextGenerationEU and the European Social Fund Plus) are aimed to restore confidence in national governance efforts in modernising economies, societies (as well as the governance’s system itself) to progressively face such major challenges as the climate change, technological revolution, sustainability and the overall digitisation.
However, these transition measures have to be just: e.g. social spending already accounts for around 30 percent in the member states’ recovery and resilience plans delivered to the Commission for a final approval.

= Importance of social rights. One of the European Labour Authority’s vital tasks is to improve access to information for mobile workers and their employers. It is not enough to have rules and regulations for social protection and labour rights: workers need to understand them and employers need to assume responsibility for them, argued the Commissioner.
Europe should be the beacon, the gold standard, when it comes to labour market conditions, regardless of where the worker comes from: it is about ensuring fairness at all levels.

= Working conditions for seasonal/mobile workers
The pandemic revealed some sub-standard conditions faced by some workers, in particular in agro-food and processing sectors; particularly, when it is about health and safety working conditions, which is a top priority to contain the spread of the virus.
The poor working conditions, inhumane treatment of workers and lack of transparency are completely unacceptable and in contradiction of the EU’s principles and values, argued the Commissioner. The free movement of people is even more beneficial if it goes hand in hand with upward social convergence. The driving force of the European integration is that all workers have to be treated equally with due respect for their rights.
Thus, the rights of workers, including seasonal or mobile workers, have to be fully observed, regardless of what type of contract they have. Some countries have already taken action and clamped down on poor working conditions, but more progress is still needed.
The Commissioner urged all EU states to redouble their efforts to ensure that EU labour laws are properly enforced by all companies and in all sectors, as well as to follow up with inspections where needed.
The ELA’s 2021 Action Plan on seasonal workers in this context is extremely vital: the plan provides a comprehensive approach to seasonal work, with an emphasis on the ELA’s two core responsibilities: information and enforcement. This included an information campaign, culminating in the EU “Week of Action for Seasonal Workers” that took place this September; by the time, ELA supported and coordinated 5 joint and concerted inspections on seasonal work in nine EU states. Several other inspections in seasonal work, construction, and road transport are to take place later in the year; so the ELA works even before it was officially inaugurated.
The EU already has a comprehensive set of acquis in the field of labour mobility, covering for example rules on the posting of workers, safer working environments, transparent and predictable working conditions, equal opportunities and access to labour markets.
EU legislation is constantly adapting to the new realities to ensure that workers fully benefit from their rights and businesses can thrive on a level playing field, without fear of social dumping or unfair competition.
Amended directive for posted workers prescribes that workers are entitled to the same pay for the same work in the same place, and the revision of rules on social security coordination.
Other major new initiatives include e.g. the proposed directive on adequate minimum wages and the upcoming directive to improve the working conditions of platform workers. Thus, ensuring the application of fair labour mobility principles is first and foremost about enforcing the existing rules.
ELA offers practical support in cross-border employment via its EURES network, helping job-seekers and employers find each other. The network analysis labour mobility and ensures that the member states’ governance understands the latest trends and gets the needed data on work in new patterns of “teleworking”. It tackles undeclared work which deprives workers of social protection, distorts competition between businesses, and leads to huge gaps in public finances.
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