Commission to promote ‘decent work’ in the world

The Commission will issue a Communication in support of basic worker rights for workers all over the world. Commissioner Spidla says it will not be used for protectionism. 

The Commission’s Communication, which EURACTIV has seen, will be issued on 25 May 2006. While it is somewhat more detailed than the core labour standards as defined by the International Labour Organisation, it does not significantly exceed those standards. Both concern main issues such as the freedom to join a trade union, the freedom to collective bargaining, the fight against forced labour, against child labour and modern forms of slavery. 

The Communication does not deal with poor labour standards in EU or EU candidate countries. Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla says there are “tougher measures” to be applied for example to Bulgaria and Romania, which have been criticised by the ILO for the ongoing practice of child labour in both countries. 

Mainly, the Communication deals with possibilities of leveraging ongoing EU policies in support of the decent work agenda. This affects Foreign Relations, Development Cooperation and Trade. These three Directorates General of the Commission have co-authored the Communication with DG Employment and Social Affairs. Although trade issues are concerned, the Communication stresses that “the endorsement of social objectives cannot under any circumstances be used for protectionist purposes”.

The Communication is a follow-up to the European Consensus on Development  and to the Commission’s Communication on the Social Dimension of Globalisation

Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said that the Commission publishes its Communication not in order to add to the ILO decent work agenda, but rather to show its support for the agenda. When asked whether the Communication was not purely rhetoric then, the Commissioner said: "Maybe it is, but sometimes it takes good rhetoric to bring things forward. This is the way to go to make important progress."  The Commissioner said that in a way the Decent Work Agenda could be understood as "the ninth of the UN's eight Millennium Goals". He said that decent work is essential maintaining the global balance and stability. 

At the EU-Latin America Summit on 12 May 2006, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said it must be the main concern of politicians to give young people the decent work that they deserved. He added he could not think of a better way of ensuring a better future for the world.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Chairman of the Global Progressive Forum and of the Party of European Socialists, said: "I am all for trade liberalisation, but only if it is accompanied by action to end child labour, to end the misery of working poverty, to give ordinary people a decent life. It is very positive that the European Commission wants to start promoting decent work. Now it needs to put words into action."

John Monks, General Secretary with ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, said: "The EU has a specific responsibility to promote decent work in and outside Europe. We need a more effective implementation of the Lisbon Strategy for more and better jobs to combat excessively high levels of unemployment and increasing poverty. And we need a European aid, development and trade policy that is coherent with the European Social Model."

Ian Derry, Secretary-General with the development NGO Solidar, said: "The European Commission should recognise that the promotion of decent work is a matter of coherence between its policies. There is a need to re-focus European development cooperation and trade policy to ensure that decent work is a central policy objective. It needs to be explicitly recognised, in both policy and practice, that the creation of decent work is key to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals."

"Decent work" is a term that was coined by the International Labour Organisation and its Director-General Juan Somavia in a June 1999 report, where it was defined as follows: "The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. [...] Decent work is the converging focus of all its four strategic objectives: the promotion of rights at work; employment; social protection; and social dialogue." In short, the ILO says, decent work is "the heart of social progress".

  • On 9 May 2006, government, employer and worker delegates to the ILO announced the start of a "Decade of promoting decent work in the Americas".
  • On 3 to 6 June 2006, Commissioner Vladimir Spidla will, on behalf of the EU, promote the decent work agenda at the 95th Session of the International Labour Conference, in Geneva.
  • On 3 - 5 June, Commissioner Spidla will take part in the High-Level Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Committee (UN ECOSOC), under the theme of "Creating an environment at the national and international levels conducive to generating full and productive employment and decent work for all, and its impact on sustainable development", where he will also promote decent work. 
  • The Commission will produce a report on the follow-up to the Decent Work Communication by the summer of 2008.

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