The chance is high that you were clapping every evening for health workers last spring, or have been ordering food more often at home via a takeaway platform since the start of the pandemic. Those who took care of your children, continued to clean the public spaces, made sure the supermarkets stayed open, and brought food or other orders to your doorstep are among the heroes of the Covid crisis – but they are also highly represented among the 22 million people living at risk of poverty across the EU, in many cases due to statutory minimum wages that are too low or to precarious working situations in the unregulated platform economy. As we can read in the latest ETUC-ETUI Benchmarking Working Europe report, over the past three decades our economic model has progressively redistributed less and less wealth to the bottom percentiles of society, while accumulating more and more at the top. The Covid-19 pandemic has only intensified this process, despite the widely adopted public support measures.
However, some good news came just in time to sweeten the bitter pill that the past year has been. At the end of November the European Parliament approved the opening of negotiations with the European Council on a draft directive on minimum wages, on the basis of the report adopted by the Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. Two weeks later, the European Council also agreed on a common position, possibly leading to the adoption of the directive in the spring of next year. There are high hopes that the directive will not only ensure that minimum wages guarantee a decent standard of living for all workers, but also that it will require Member States to strengthen collective bargaining, thus signifying a real change for the most vulnerable – and at the same time most vital – workers in Europe.
The other light at the end of the tunnel is the European Commission’s proposal for a directive on working conditions in platform work that it put forward at the beginning of December. This directive should ensure that platform workers will enjoy the same rights as other employees, such as paid holiday and sick leave. What is more, via the so called ‘presumption of employment relationship’ the burden of proving that there is no employment relationship will be on the platform. This could put an end to the exploitation of false self-employed workers by giving them more legal certainty.
Neither of these future directives are drafted in an unambiguous way; not all of the elements in them that would genuinely ensure their effectiveness are expected to survive the next negotiation rounds; and neither directive is likely to come into force swiftly. However, they are both significant steps in the right direction, and can be considered a victory for European workers. For more background information on both subjects, visit our publications webpage here.
Despite these unpredictable times, the ETUI would like to wish you a laid-back holiday period and an optimistic new year! Take care of yourselves and your families, and keep up the spirit – our movement will need it in 2022.