Commission to give fresh push to social pillar in COVID times

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, participates in the Conference on the European pillar of social rights: going forward together, 23 January 2017. [© European Union , 2017]

The European Commission’s action plan to implement the EU Social Pillar will aim to bolster the protection of social rights following the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, a  Commission official has said.

Social protection needs to be agile and adapt to societal and economic changes, said Dana Bachmann, head of unit for the modernisation of social protection systems at the European Commission

And “it needs to be adequate and effective for everyone”, not only for permanent workers, so that nobody is left behind, she added in a webinar hosted by EURACTIV. 

The EU adopted its Pillar of Social Rights in 2017. But as Bachmann admitted, “more efforts” are needed to notice the effects of the strategy in our lives.

For that reason, the Commission will put forward in early 2021 an Action Plan to implement the 20 key principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The digital economy and the impact of the pandemic have shown the vulnerability of many workers across Europe with non-standard types of contracts.

Commissioner Schmit: The future of Europe is not low wages, insecure jobs

The EU is facing the worst recession in history as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. To ensure that the crisis does not turn into a social emergency, the bloc must address issues like job security, minimum wages, or youth opportunities, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, told EURACTIV in an interview. 

The action plan will aim to protect all kinds of workers. At the same time, Bachmann said, we should learn the lessons from this crisis, for example by turning the temporary instruments we created to cushion its negative effects into permanent mechanisms, such as SURE, the instrument to protect workers.

Speaking at the same webinar, socialist MEP Victor Negrescu, vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, said that the pandemic had fuelled some of the transformations ongoing in the labour market due to the automation and digitisation processes. “The future is now, we need to act”.

To that end, he proposed to dedicate 10% of the €672 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility, the main pillar of the EU’s recovery fund, to education and reskilling for the digital age.

The impact of automation and artificial intelligence have sparked fears of massive job destruction. Scott Marcus, a senior fellow at Bruegel think tank, however, was less worried as the job loss “doesn’t seem to happen so rapidly”.

Still, inequalities are on the rise in the midst of the transformation of the labor market. Against this backdrop, he said that “currently we have a need for leadership” to achieve an efficient, properly funded social system.

“A lot needs to be done” to progress toward a new social contract for this digital era, Marcus concluded.

Alison Martin, CEO for EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) and Bank Distribution at Zurich insurance, agreed with Marcus that the net impact of automation would be positive in the long run. 

Workers, however, need protection during the transition and “unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the right structures in place right now”, Martin said, adding that there is no clarity about how we are going to fund it.

According to a study published by Zurich in early October, new forms of public-private partnerships could help to ease pressure on governments.

In the post-COVID era, redistribution and increased flexibility will be necessary features of the social protection system already impacted by the technological change, the study added.

‘Let’s do our work’ on social policy, Juncker tells member states

Europe’s credibility hinges on national leaders agreeing social legislation that applies across the bloc, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday (17 November) at a summit with leaders from EU countries in Gothenburg, Sweden.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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