Social Affairs Board

Introduction

As part of their autonomous work programme 2019-2021, on 17 September the European Social Partners organised a meeting on childcare provisions in the EU. This was part of a series of meetings bringing together EU and national social partners and experts to discuss how to improve the performance of labour markets and social systems. As a result, we have published the following statement:

General remarks

As recalled in the European Pillar of Social Rights, all children have the equal right to upbringing, high quality care and education for their personal development and well-being. Quality, accessibility and affordability of childcare are thus crucial to ensure these rights to all children in the EU, support disadvantaged groups in society and tackling poverty. Efforts are particularly needed to ensure care and leisure facilities to vulnerable children, such as children living in poverty and of ethnic minorities.

Available, accessible, affordable and quality childcare facilities are also essential for parents to work. Given that women are still predominantly responsible for caring duties, childcare is particularly important in increasing women’s employment, thereby making an essential contribution to gender equality and tackling the gender pay gap. At the same time, efforts should be made to incentivise more men to join the childcare workforce.

The Barcelona targets on childcare were agreed by EU member states in 2002. Whilst the target of 33 % of children under 3 years old in childcare has been reached across the EU as a whole and the target of 90 % of children from age 3 until mandatory school age has nearly been reached, this hides large differences between member states and among different territorial realities within the same state. Unfortunately, availability of accessible, affordable and quality childcare is not yet a reality in all countries, with some still significantly lagging behind. This has a negative impact on labour market participation of parents and therefore on employment overall, as well as on gender equality. In contrast, some member states have reached and even surpassed the Barcelona targets, which means they no longer act as an incentive in such cases, whereas continual improvements remain necessary across the whole of the EU.

Beside a general issue with understaffing, there is also a shortage of after school hours and holiday childcare in Europe. This is detrimental for children’s well-being and represents a major obstacle to full-time paid work for parents with school age children to remain in employment and increase their working hours, as well as attract more women into the labour market.

National childcare systems are diverse including in the funding structures, the share of public and private facilities and the modalities of provision, e.g. accessibility. We support effective investment in childcare, which ensures availability, accessibility, affordability and quality to all, in a long-term perspective – as enshrined in the EU’s Social Investment approach. This has to be determined by each member state according to their national system. The EU’s role is to complement member states’ efforts and we support the indication by the Commission that EU funding through the MFF, the recovery and resilience facility and the European Social Fund should complement member states’ investment in childcare.

The quality of childcare is very much determined by those that work in the sector. It is important to ensure that workers have the appropriate level of qualifications, good working and remuneration conditions, professional development paths, and that the value of the sector, including the educational value, is well recognised. These aspects are important in attracting and retaining staff and providing quality of service. Collective bargaining is a key tool to address challenges and bring about improvements in working conditions, in full respect of national industrial relations systems. Men are underrepresented in the sector, which contributes to gender stereotypes regarding male and female roles in the labour market as well as in society more broadly.

Social dialogue plays a role in developing practical tools to increase access and affordability to childcare, for example by creating joint funds by collective agreements to support childcare projects addressing specific needs of working parents in specific sectors, such as care for children with illness and disabilities, care outside regular opening hours.

Recommendations

In view of the general remarks above, the European Social Partners make the following recommendations.

To EU member states:
  • We encourage EU member states, in particular those who are lagging behind in implementation of the Barcelona targets, to step up their efforts to ensure provision of accessible, affordable and quality childcare in a sustainable way, in full respect of national systems, including by:
    • Focusing on childcare provision in their national recovery and resilience plans, including qualitative and quantitative objectives/targets, objectively verifiable milestones and appropriate and economically sustainable financial investments in the sector;
    • Using the funding opportunities provided by the recovery and resilience facility and the European Social Fund;
    • Implementing country specific recommendations on childcare as part of the semester process;
    • Using the Commission’s reform programme support mechanism;
    • Implementing principle 11 of the European Pillar of Social rights.
  • We encourage EU member states to support raising the 33% Barcelona target to at least 50% aiming for total coverage in the long run so that it provides more ambition for those already reaching or surpassing it, and to support introduction of a new target on provision of after school hours childcare.
  • We encourage the collection of more broken-down data, unveiling the social and territorial factors of inequalities in access to childcare provision, so as to better define the specific as well as the overall targets
  • We encourage EU member states to design their childcare policy always taking into account that public and private childcare providers need to be given a regulatory framework which allows for a level playing-field, whilst respecting that this is a decision for the national level;
  • We encourage EU member states to promote affordable, accessible and quality childcare facilities, by highlighting the importance and benefits for child development as well as for employment, labour markets and gender equality.
  • We encourage EU member states to promote the value of working in the sector, to ensure good working conditions including by strengthening collective bargaining and ensuring quality, stable jobs, fair salaries and adequate level of social protection and to take actions to attract staff to the sector, in particular men.
To the European Commission:
  • We call on the European Commission to include in the forthcoming Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights, actions to support member states in improving provision and quality of childcare and of tools and incentives to support the work life balance at work, in line with implementation of principles 2, 9 and 11 of the Pillar.
  • We call on the European Commission to strongly encourage member states, in particular those lagging behind in implementation of the Barcelona targets, to step up their efforts to ensure provision of accessible, affordable and quality childcare in a sustainable way, in full respect of national systems. This should include better follow-up with member states where more forceful action is needed to implement country-specific recommendations on childcare, including by:
    • Encouraging member states to focus on childcare provision in their national recovery and resilience plans, including by setting quantitative and qualitative objectives/targets, objectively verifiable milestones and costings;
    • Encouraging member states to channel the complementary financial support made available through the MFF, the recovery and resilience facility, and the European Social Fund, to improve provision of childcare and tools to support work life balance.
    • Supporting interested member states to improve childcare provision at the national level by mobilising the European Reform Support Programme;
    • Promoting learning between member states and social partners on how best to improve availability, affordability and quality of childcare provision in a way that supports economic growth, is fiscally viable, and adequately takes into account employers and workers’ needs.
  • We call on the Commission to support member states in setting comparable targets and to ensure that a monitoring and benchmarking of member states’ actions takes place at EU level. This should build on the existing work of the Council’s Social Protection and Employment Committees.
  • We call on the European Commission to gradually raise the current Barcelona target of 33% to at least 50% aiming for total coverage in the long run, taking into consideration also the quality, affordability and territorial diffusion (NB: For those member states that already reached the EU average of 35%, roughly half have already achieved 50% and the others have achieved between 37 – 49%. Therefore, this target would represent progress.
  • We call on the European Commission to introduce a new target for provision of after school hours childcare.
  • We encourage the Commission to support member states to promote the use of affordable, accessible and quality childcare facilities and the value of working in the sector, by highlighting the importance and benefits not only for employment, labour markets and gender equality, but also for child development and tackling child poverty.

On Wednesday 28 October, the European Commission has presented its proposal for a Directive on “adequate minimum wages in the European Union”. According to the proposal, this Directive aims at establishing “a framework for setting adequate levels of minimum wages”, and ensuring “access of workers to minimum wage protection, in the form of wages set out by collective agreements or in the form of a statutory minimum wage where it exists.”

Following the presentation, Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, commented:

“We remain convinced that a Council Recommendation would have been the proper way forward to address the issue of fair minimum wages in Europe. It is furthermore important to state that CEEP was open, during the two stages of the consultation process of social partners, to negotiate with our counterparts the content of a Council Recommendation. Social dialogue is always the best way to address issues directly impacting employers and workers.”

“Against that background, we welcome the fact that the European Commission clearly states in several articles, and in particular article 4, that collective bargaining remains the best instrument to achieve the objectives of the proposal and shall consequently be promoted all over Europe. However, CEEP will remain vigilant that this proposal does not endanger the autonomy of social partners when it comes to wages negotiations.”

“We now call on the European Parliament and the European Council to make sure that the role of social partners is protected and that the proposal supports and do not endanger our European economy in these difficult times. That is why we will insist that the Directive ensure sufficient time for transposition: we are indeed deeply concerned by the two-years timeline outlined in the proposal. An unrealistic timing for transposition at a time when Members States, national and local social partners are striving to face the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare the recovery, risks to further exacerbate inequalities instead of levelling them down.”

At the Tripartite Social Summit, CEEP President Katherina Reiche addressed the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the Federal Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz with the main messages of providers and employers of public services and SGIs on current challenges.

Ms Reiche focused her speech on three messages:

On the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027: “In line with President Juncker’s call in the State of the Union, we urge the Council to reach – at the very least – an agreement in principle on the next Multiannual Financial Framework, ahead of the European elections next year. We call for a clear and predictable financial framework to plan necessary future investments.”

On Digitalisation, and the need for a level playing field: “The EU has to develop a clear and common strategy on how to create a level playing field in a very global and competitive environment and has to consult the social partners during that process. The right design of a European data economy will be the difference between a Europe that is a competitive digital powerhouse and a Europe that is reduced to a mere marketplace for the global players from Asia and America.”

On the Investment Needs in Europe: “Despite the Juncker plan there is still a sizeable investment gap. In fact, infrastructure investment activities have dropped over the last years and we are falling behind. For that reason, Europe requires a strong investment agenda: investments for all kinds of infrastructures must be reinforced, from essential services such as transport and energy to social services like health and to investments for the necessary digital transformation towards a 5G economy.”

CEEP also published today its Pulse of Public Services, highlighting the expectations of employers and providers of SGIs, as well as the main challenges they are facing.

CEEP Position Paper on a Future European Labour Authority – PDF

Executive Summary

  • The creation of the European Labour Authority should strengthen cooperation between labour market authorities at all levels and lead to the better management of cross-border situations, as well as to further initiatives in support of fair mobility, and proper coordination of European Social Security schemes.
  • CEEP wishes for three principles to be respected by the future ELA:
    • The Principle of subsidiarity and member states’ own authorities must be respected.
    • ELA must leave space for the different labour market models and priorities Member States may have. It is crucial that a European labour authority does not touch on the autonomy of the social partners and the key role that they play.
    • The ELA should not have any supra-national competences. It should concern itself with improving the enforcement of existing rules, facilitating intra-EU mobility and promote mutual learning between National authorities.

CEEP Opinion on the Proposal on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions in the European Union Repealing Directive 91/553/EEC – PDF

Executive Summary

  • CEEP opposes changing the purpose of the Written Statement Directive from an information instrument to a rights-based framework Directive. The proposed minimum requirements relating to working conditions are new rights seen in a European perspective, as they have always been core elements of national laws and collective agreements and contracts.
  • The Proposal conflicts with the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the principle that EU decisions should be taken as close to citizens as possible. There are great differences between EU Member States regarding both what constitutes balanced working conditions and how the labour market is regulated. The EU Proposal would constitute excessive interference with the labour market model of several Member States, especially those regulating working conditions by collective agreements.
  • In Europe, we have a vast variety of social- and labour market models and different traditions. Many of CEEP’s members have a strong and long-standing tradition for wage and working conditions to be regulated by social partners through collective agreements. It ensures flexibility and adaptability in relation to labour market developments, the differences in the different sectors and a balance of both parties’ interests.
  • CEEP emphasizes the necessity to respect the social partners’ autonomy and their right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate level as stated in Principle 8 of the European Social Pillars Rights.
  • CEEP finds it unfortunate that the European Commission introduces within its proposal the definitions for employees and employers in order to define the employment relationship within the scope of article 2. This approach takes a different path from the long tradition of the application of EU Social Law, which is by definition in the hands of the Member States.
  • CEEP agrees with the principle that workers should have the right to be informed about their rights and obligations resulting from the employment relationship in a timely and comprehensible manner. At the same time, the obligations imposed on the employer should be realistic and feasible. CEEP suggests several adaptations to allow of a sound application of the Directive without creating a disproportionate administrative burden for both the employer and the worker.
  • CEEP acknowledges the need for protection of workers that are not covered by a collective agreement and the need for minimum rights for those. Nonetheless it is very important that this Directive ensures the right for national social partners to enter into collective agreements that are not governed by the minimum provisions. An agreement made by national social partners must be regarded as a guarantee of secure and fair working conditions and the European Court of Justice should honor the content of such collective agreements. Conditions in collective agreements cannot be seen in isolation, but must be seen as a whole, giving regard to all conditions in collective agreements that apply to a worker.

Joint Social Partners’ Final Report “Promoting social partnership in employee training”– PDF

Key summary

  • Rapid labour market changes such as the industry 4.0 revolution, digitalisation, social, demographic and environmental transitions and global challenges require joint actions on improving employee training. A skilled workforce is one of the main assets of the European social and economic model and this should be further developed to cope with the challenges posed by the future of work. Education, training and lifelong learning was reaffirmed as a priority by European heads of state and government while proclaiming the European Pillar of Social Rights in November 2017. Support for training to adults provides benefits for workers, employers and the whole of society.
  • There are many different national laws, rules and approaches to the organisation and provision of employee training. Some countries have wide-ranging and strong vocational training policies set in legislation, while in others training provisions are set by collective agreements, at various levels, or agreed directly between employers and employees in the workplace. Opportunities to access training can also be dependent on the size of the company/workplace. Access to effective employee training should be facilitated while respecting the diversity and flexibility of systems, which vary according to diverse industrial relations practices.
  • Financing levels and mechanisms of employee training vary significantly across Europe. This reflects the different levels of economic development in the Member States, but also different choices and responsibilities of the actors. Whatever the financing model, an important success factor is the involvement of social partners and the cooperative attitude between them when it comes to the management of funding, time and human resources. Improvements to national education and training systems could be further fostered through targeted financial support to Member States as part of the European semester process.
  • Employee training can contribute towards creating a good working environment, which ensures employees’ well-being in their work, motivates them, and enables them to progress in their career and earnings. In turn, employers benefit from the enhanced motivation and productivity of their workforce and overall businesses performance. This means that there is a shared interest and a shared responsibility of employers and employees to contribute to upskilling and reskilling, leading to successful enterprises and an appropriately skilled
    workforce.
  • Because they take an active role and have direct knowledge and experience of both labour and training markets, social partners are well placed to foster a diversified offer of training options in the search for the best possible fit with employers’ and workers’ needs on the labour market.
  • Social dialogue and collective agreements, in particular at the sectoral level, play an important role in the governance of training systems and in creating training opportunities and improving the relevance and provision of employee training. This includes social partners working together to foster transition and career paths between sectors. The establishment of training funds has occurred in several Member States and can play an important role.
  • Paid time off for work-relevant training and a right to training are established practices in some Member States. In such cases, social partners play a role in facilitating employees’ effective access to training. This could provide inspiration for other countries, depending on the national context. Employee training should be of high quality, effective and equally relevant for the worker and the employer. It should respond to the need for improving professional, soft and transversal skills and contribute to workplace and industry-related career development. Employee training offers should also respond to new and emerging developments in labour markets and enterprises. These offers should be tailor-made, innovative in terms of new training methods, take into account work organisation and be delivered online, where appropriate, and in a work-based environment. In addition, it should be accessible and benefit from pooling/mutualised resources within and between sectors.
  • Training provisions must be designed in a way that fosters and supports mobility between and within sectors. Securing these transitions benefits workers’ employability and employers’ capacity to attract new recruits.
  • The changes and transitions in the labour market require effective upskilling and reskilling, according to identified needs, and defined by labour market intelligence tools and social partner involvement at all appropriate levels, so as to respond to the existing and future skills demand identified by employers and trade unions across sectors and occupations. A good match between the training offer and enterprises’ need for an increasingly skilled workforce is a key condition for employers to offer training and for workers to access training and remain in quality employment while continued digitalisation, automation, and artificial intelligence changes their everyday work.
  • Employee training should be seen as an overall approach within which there may be a need for a targeted approach to specific groups. In such cases, and as part of the wider approach to active labour market policies, Member States should provide effective and systematic support including financial resources for training that supports the integration of the low-skilled, unemployed and socio-economically disadvantaged groups in the labour market, in particular migrants and refugees, via employee training and adult apprenticeships. The training needs of older workers and of NEETs in particular should also be taken into account. As part of this, Member States should ensure the implementation of the upskilling pathways Council recommendation with the effective involvement of social partners, as applicable.
  • Training schemes, developed with the involvement of the social partners, should aim to decrease the gender gap in certain professions, support women’s career development, and to ensure that they can also reach high-level and managerial positions where they are disproportionally under-represented. It is also important to encourage more women to study STEM subjects.

CEEP Opinion on the EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 – PDF

Executive summary

  • CEEP is convinced of the added value of the EU budget and believes that there are clear margins of manoeuver to make it more efficient and relevant. The financial discussions for the upcoming Multi-Annual Financial Framework should be linked with the debates on the Future of the EU. It is important to agree on the Europe we want for the future and attach corresponding resources to the established priorities.
  •  Transversal principles
    • EU Added Value: The EU added value should become one of the key criteria for the successful use of EU funds and thus also for the success of cohesion policy. A stable union means a stable economic and monetary union.
    • Flexibility: Funding committed should remain available in the budget and re-allocated to other programmes. This rule should be flexible enough to adapt to new political circumstances during the implementation of the MFF.
    • Simplification and Administrative Barriers: CEEP urges the EC to reduce the administrative burden of EU funds management. The EU budget is pressured by the need to be more efficient, to focus on areas where its impact is greatest and to ensure that burdensome rules and procedures do not hinder the achievement of its goals.
    • Going beyond GDP. The distribution principles of the EU structural funding should not be exclusively based on the GDP criterion but cover alternative indicators – such as poverty rate, youth and long-term unemployment or the activity rate of vulnerable groups – addressing other EU’s most pressing concerns, in line with the principles proclaimed in the EU Pillar of Social Rights.
  • Our Priorities for the Future MFF
    • Strategic Infrastructure: Public investment in key physical and social infrastructures are the main levers to foster growth. The MFF provides a key opportunity for reinforcing their financing. Tools such as the EFSI are also considered by CEEP members as critical.
    • Circular economy: it should be a key feature in future funds because of its transversal aspects and multiple effects for citizens. Fostering innovation through circular economic solutions could enable the EU to build a new way to make business, to promote industrial research and to create new jobs protecting the environment.
    • European Economic and Social Governance: CEEP favours greater technical assistance to all Member States in improving their institutional and administrative capacities for implementing structural reforms.
    • Economic, Social, Territorial Cohesion and the ESF+: CEEP members advocate for a pre-allocation of 25% of the cohesion funds to the future ESF+ and at least keeping the ESF+ budget at the level of the previous programming period (2014 – 2020), including the ESF, Youth Employment initiative and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. The ESF should remain an EU Structural Fund, and not be expanded to cover priorities beyond its core goals (employment, education, social inclusion and the fight against poverty). CEEP members advocate for maintaining a pre-allocation of 30% of the ESF objectives of addressing poverty and social exclusion.
    • Investing in Social Dialogue: It is urgent to develop a mechanism for monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Code of Conduct on Partnership by the Member States and make respect of its principles an ex-ante conditionality in the preparation and implementation of operational programmes.

Addressing EU Ministers for Employment and Social Affairs at the opening session of the informal EPSCO in Tallinn, CEEP General Secretary Valeria Ronzitti expressed deep regrets that the EU social partners could not find a common ground to negotiate on work-life balance.
As the social partners are the best-placed to identify, design and implement measures on this issue, Ms Ronzitti encouraged Member States to now work on the proposal tabled by the European Commission in close and constant cooperation with their national, regional and local social partners.

Whilst trusting Member States to find an agreement in co-decision about the majority of proposals from the European Commission’s proposal on work-life balance for parents and carers, Ms Ronzitti expressed strong concerns on a proposed EU-wide carer’s leave. Such a proposal could reveal counterproductive with negative impact on women’s employment. “Women are still the primary carers of dependant relatives in most cases, meaning that we risk adding yet another leave to women. Additionally, as public services workers are in majority women, our members are concerned regarding the potential financial impact this could have, particularly when adding demographic change”, explained Ms Ronzitti. She continued: “Caring for a dependant is in most cases not limited in time, at the difference of a parental leave. It should therefore be for Member States to determine whether it is necessary to introduce a carers’ leave”.

The key aspects of designing support measures for carers which are relevant to people’s life paths must include investments into supporting services for informal carers and formal care services and allow for employee-driven flexibility in employment relations. The high-level Task Force on Social Infrastructures estimated investment needs on long term care at about €262 bln per year, which is more than half of the total estimated investment needs in social infrastructures (estimated at €455 bln per year when education and social housing are included).

CEEP therefore recommends to Member States to adopt a holistic approach on this issue: leave arrangements are not the panacea and the only way to achieve work-life balance.

EU Member States representatives and European social partners (employers and trade unions – CEEP, ETUC, BusinessEurope and UEAPME) agreed on an Opinion of the Advisory Committee on vocational training (ACVT) on A Shared Vision for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships and Work-based Learning, which will be addressed to the European Commission. You can consult the opinion on the following page.

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