Social EU or no EU? Trades Union calls for balanced approach to Pillar of Social Rights

Written by Eduardo Chagas on 22 June 2016 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

The European Commission's Pillar of Social Rights initiative must include proposals to counter the negative impact EU economic governance rules, says Eduardo Chagas.

Happy worker

Trades Union calls for balanced approach to Pillar of Social Rights | Photo credit: Fotolia

The European Commission has launched a consultation on the development of a European Pillar of Social Rights which runs until 31 December 2016.

The European trade union movement, and in particular the European Transport Workers’ Federation, welcomes this significant initiative. For too long we have had to accept the submission of social rights to economic objectives; this is an opportunity to redress that balance.

The transport sector provides too many examples where economic arguments around the internal market have overruled social aspects.


Liberalisation policies have dominated our sectors, bringing significant job loss, worsening employment conditions and a surge of new business models promoting discrimination, precariousness and social dumping..

Any Pillar of Social Rights must reintroduce a balance, as well as complying with article nine of the Lisbon Treaty, "in defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health".

We call on the Commission to include the goal of improving the protection of all workers as an explicitly stated objective of the Pillar of Social Rights, together with the guarantee that the level of protection cannot regress.

At the same time, the aim of ‘upward convergence’ must mean that all workers have the opportunity to improve their situation. It cannot be used to justify holding back better performing member states or to limit their ability to provide greater worker protection.

The Pillar of Social Rights must counter the negative impacts of the EU's economic governance rules, particularly on public investment and services, social benefits, wages and collective bargaining.

It must take a rights-based approach and guarantee that those rights have a strong legal basis. Experience shows that when it comes to social rights, voluntary guidelines are rarely respected. Good practice and benchmarking are not sufficient. Benchmarks are useful for assessing the effectiveness of laws but cannot replace them.

Contrary to what the Commission proposes, we believe that the Pillar of Social Rights should apply throughout the EU and that it should not focus solely on individual rights.

Collective rights must be identified and promoted, otherwise the Social Pillar will fail to recognise the significant power imbalance between individual workers and their employers. We expect the Commission to demonstrate its commitment to re-establishing collective bargaining as the primary tool for enforcing social rights.

It is in that context that we are actively promoting the European Citizens’ Initiative "Fair Transport Europe", which calls on the Commission to ensure fair competition in the different transport modes and to guarantee equal treatment of workers -in respect of the principle of equal pay and working conditions, independently of country of origin.

Achieving these objectives is essential not only for striking the necessary social balance but also to reverse the growing discontent among European citizens towards the free-market dogma that has dominated policymaking - to the detriment of the common interest - for so long.

Neglecting this will seriously undermine the political support for the Union and ultimately leads to its destruction.

More information on the Fair Transport Europe citizens' initiative can be found at

About the author

Eduardo Chagas is General Secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF)

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