Last October, the European Commission unveiled a programme aimed at simplifying the European social legislation. The Commission considers that some EU directives hinder economic growth in Europe through provisions that would represent an "administrative burden" for companies, in particular for SMEs. In the view of the European workers' movement, this "simplification exercise" is actually an ideologically oriented deregulation programme that endangers workers' rights.
Dubbed ‘Refit’ (short for Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme), this initiative could, according to the European trade unions, have devastating effects on a large number of EU directives and regulations dealing with health and safety at work, social dialogue, information and consultation, environmental issues, etc.
The unions have been mobilizing to reverse this trend. The European Trade Union Confederation has set up a poster campaign to raise awareness among its member organizations and their affiliates. At national level, actions have been taken on several fronts to address this situation.
In Belgium, the three trade union confederations FGTB, CSC and CGSLB have launched a joint action focused on their national politicians.
"Are you, or not, in favour of blocking the European regulations on health and safety at work?", "Do you want the rules protecting workers against carcinogenic substances to be extended or not?", are two examples of questions the unions are intending to put to their candidates at the European elections to be held in Belgium on 25 May 2014.
Belgian unions have also put together a new website on which action tools such as letters, postcards, draft mails, petitions and publications are made available to other unions, enabling them to adapt these tools to their national context and launch their own initiatives.
In the United Kingdom, a country whose government has been playing a pioneering role in the deregulatory wave that is spreading across Europe, the TUC has launched a strongly-worded attack on the Refit programme.
“There have been attacks on compensation, reporting requirements, protection for the self-employed and the ban on proactive inspections in most sectors. Unfortunately they are now exporting their anti-worker position into Europe and it is spreading like a bad outbreak of gastric flu”, wrote Hugh Robertson, TUC Senior Policy Officer for Health and Safety, on the TUC blog Stronger Unions.
In early 2014, the ETUI will organize a debate – Monthly forum – on the REFIT programme.