Europe’s trade unions: social justice in economic governance
The disastrous experience of austerity should never be repeated, according to ETUC's Deputy General Secretary Veronica Nilsson.
A European single market, and a single currency, need closer coordination of national economic policies. But common European rules need to be the right rules, to promote growth, full employment and the wellbeing of society in general. However, the EU is currently far from achieving an ambitious social agenda.
Revise Europe’s economic governance system
The current system of economic governance focuses solely on economic objectives such as price competitiveness, public deficit and debt targets or external trade deficits. Consequently, it is also decoupled from the Europe 2020 strategy and its goals of more and better jobs and less poverty.
The result is that the EU’s economic governance system infringes on social objectives and fundamental rights. Clear limits and boundaries need to be set, forcing economic governance to respect the social principles within the Treaties and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
To ensure a social dimension in Europe, the Stability and Growth Pact should be revised, as its rules have exacerbated the recession. More time for adjustment and extended flexibility on public deficits should be allowed as long as Europe’s recovery remains fragile.
When the economy is in a dismal state, the priority should be to expand aggregate demand and increase public investment. This could also mean addressing the problem of unsustainable debt.
Deeper structural reforms and current economic policies stifle demand and growth, create the risk of deflation, and undermine the industrial base vital to long-term recovery. The EU is not lacking in structural reforms, it is lacking in internal demand, which could be remedied by an increase in wages for workers across Europe. The ETUC also demands ‘A New Path for Europe’ with an investment programme of 2% of GDP per year for the next 10 years.
Grant the E(M)U a social dimension
The financial crisis has revealed significant flaws in the design of European Economic and Monetary Union. The ETUC is calling for, among other things, social and environmental indicators to become a strong and integral feature of economic governance in the EMU.
The European Commission has put forward a proposal for completing the EMU in two steps. The ETUC, however, opposes the planned Competitiveness Boards as these are a dangerous solution addressing the wrong issue, and could infringe on the autonomy of social partners and their freedom to bargain collectively. With euro area exports exceeding imports by more than 3% of GDP, the euro area is not suffering from a lack of competitiveness. Its main problem is the (private) debt overhang inherited from a financial market-driven boom that went bust.
Competitiveness is about innovation, quality products and services, research and development, education and training, and availability of good public infrastructure and networks. It is not limited to labour costs. Access to education, together with the right to lifelong learning for all, must be guaranteed, for example through a European framework for the right to in-work training and educational leave for all workers. The ETUC strongly supports the development of a wide-ranging European quality framework for apprenticeships, with minimum quality standards.
Ambitious social standards
Flexible labour markets appear to be the number one priority of the EU. Despite claims to the contrary, this will inevitably lead to more precarious jobs.
As part of an overall policy to strengthen social protection systems, the ETUC calls for a European framework directive on an adequate minimum income that establishes common principles, definitions and methods for minimum income schemes in the Member States. These common European principles should ensure a decent standard of guaranteed income for everyone in the EU.
The Youth Guarantee (the right to a quality job or training opportunity within four months of unemployment or completion of education and training) must be reinforced, and unpaid internships, age discrimination and other unfair practices must cease.
Free and fair mobility
Several obstacles still stand in the way of EU citizens finding decent work in another Member State. Mobile workers often experience discrimination or unequal treatment in fields such as social security, working conditions and wages, access to welfare and education, taxation, etc. Frontier workers encounter particular discrimination, since their status is not properly protected, recognised or even defined. Mobility should never be compulsory, either directly or indirectly, yet this is the case in many countries.
Strengthen the Social Dialogue
We need to improve European and national frameworks for stronger democracy at work. The quality of the national/bi/tripartite social dialogue in European countries should be improved. Social dialogue has been greatly weakened by austerity measures and there is a need to relaunch it at all levels, including the European one. EU social partners have agreed on an autonomous work programme for the period 2015 – 2017 and trade unions are seeking to become more influential in the EU Semester, notably in the Country Reports and the Country Specific Recommendations.
In short: EU policy-makers must put social justice and sustainable growth at the heart of European economic governanceso as to ensure decent work, fair and equal pay, and job security for workers and their families.
Veronica Nilsson is Deputy General Secretary of ETUC