State of play in EU labour policy

This article is part of our special report A hard winter up ahead.

After significant progress in the EU’s employment and social rights policy in the first semester of 2022, all eyes are now on the Czech presidency of the EU Council to see whether this momentum will continue in the second half of the year.

The French presidency ended in June, reaching a deal on several EU proposals to improve fairness at work, including the directive to boost gender equality on corporate boards.

According to the Czech minister of labour and social affairs, Marian Jurečka, gender equality at work will continue to be one of the priorities in the next few months.

Pay transparency

The presidency will try to progress on the pay transparency directive in an effort to close the EU gender pay gap, which currently stands at around 14%, Jurečka told EU lawmakers in July.

The proposed directive gives job-seekers the right to information about the pay range of positions they apply for. Moreover, they would have the right to sex-disaggregated data, allowing them to check whether women and men are paid equally for the same work or work of equal value.

The new rules ask employers with at least 250 employees to report on their gender pay gap and perform a pay assessment if the gap exceeds 5% without justifications. Moreover, victims of pay discrimination would have the right to compensation.

Currently, the Council and Parliament have “very distant” positions on the file, the Czech minister said, hoping to “gradually” negotiate the directive.

While lawmakers are pushing to extend the rules to all companies with more than 50 employees, they are also open to negotiations, according to MEP Kira Marie Peter-Hansen, co-rapporteur on the file.

“As a Parliament, we want this legislation to work as soon as possible, and we are ready to work hard to find common ground during the Czech presidency,” she told EURACTIV.

Minimum wage

Meanwhile, the EU is expected to close on the minimum wage directive after the agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council in June.

Twenty-one member states already have a minimum wage that ranges from €363 per month in Bulgaria to €2,313 per month in Luxembourg, according to Eurostat data released in July.

In the six other member states – Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden – wage levels are determined through collective bargaining.

With the new EU law, member states in which a collective agreement protects less than 80% of the workforce must create an action plan to increase this coverage.

The Parliament is expected to give its final vote on the directive during the plenary session in September.

MEP Agnes Jongerius, co-rapporteur on the file in the Parliament, is expecting a favourable vote on the directive due to rising inflation across the EU.

“I think all MEPs are aware that in their member states people have problems to make ends meet, to pay the bills,” she said.

In her view, the EU knows that to get through the current economic and energy crises, “keeping up on purchasing power is really important.”

Minimum income

Meanwhile the Commission is also working on a recommendation for minimum income which is expected to be presented at the end of September.

“We want to start debating a proposal on a standard of minimum income,” Jurečka told EU lawmakers, adding that minimum income plays an important role in fighting poverty.

The proposal should make sure everyone lacking sufficient resources has the right to adequate minimum income benefits, combined with incentives to access the labour market for those able to work.

Some EU member states have already introduced minimum income, but with several restrictions. In Italy, for instance, only people who have been residents for more than ten years can apply, while in France, people under 25 generally do not have access to minimum income.

The recommendation could encourage national governments to reduce these barriers and extend the coverage of minimum income benefits.

However, “actual implementation will entirely depend on the member states, because there’s nothing binding in the recommendation,” said Peter Verhaeghe, policy officer at Caritas Europa.

Yet, a commitment by EU countries and monitoring systems could “force member states to do a bit more to actually improve the minimum income system in terms of coverage and adequacy,” he added.

[Edited by János Allenbach-Ammann/Alice Taylor]


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