The Commission’s long-awaited social package aimed at tackling discrimination and strengthening workers’ rights, which was unveiled yesterday (2 July), was warmly welcomed by MEPs but business federations and civil society groups were dismissive, saying it falls short.
Yesterday’s large-scale package, containing proposals in the areas of employment, education and health, comes three weeks after Irish citizens rejected the EU’s Reform Treaty and is seen as an attempt to reassure Europeans that Brussels cares about citizens’ needs and can act.
Its most important elements are two directives on anti-discrimination and European Works Councils.
According to a new Eurobarometer survey, 15% of Europeans say they have been discriminated against on the basis of gender, disability, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief in the past year.
The Commission aims to tackle this with a new directive that would close loopholes in existing legislation. Indeed, current laws only covers mistreatment on the grounds of gender and for employment issues while the new legislation would “combat discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation” beyond the workspace.
“Yet discrimination on these grounds is clearly just as unacceptable outside the employment sphere as it is within it,” the Commission explains, saying the new directive will ensure that victims of all such forms of discrimination will have access to effective redress.
In a bid to respect the diversity of European societies, however, issues relating to education, recognition of marital or family status, adoption, reproductive rights, as well as national rules governing churches and other religious organisations will not be affected by the Directive.
What’s more, it will apply only to the commercial provision of goods and services. “It would be disproportionate to submit individuals acting purely privately to all the obligations of the draft Directive,” explains the Commission.
European Works Council
The other key proposal is a directive on strengthening the role of European Works Councils by addressing national governments’ failure to transpose the 1994 directive, which obliged companies with 1,000 or more workers and at least 150 employees in each of two or more EU member states to set up such councils.
However, twelve years after the directive’s entry into force, only about a third of companies have done so, with medium-sized businesses of up to 5,000 workers lagging behind the most.
The new directive aims to bring legal certainty to companies’ obligations, promote cross-border dialogue and strengthen the position of the EWCs compared to national-level works councils.
Businesses, not recognising the need to overhaul the current directive, expressed their concern that the Commission was trying to impose new burdens “of lengthy and uncertain consultation” on businesses.
Among other issues, the Commision’s package also addresses the problem of Roma exclusion across Europe, presenting instruments that would feed into a European Roma Summit in Brussels on 16 September.