European trade unions demand an ambitious directive on minimum wages and collective bargaining.
March 25th will mark the 65th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. This established the European Economic Community, bringing together states which had just emerged from war in a project of economic co-operation. This visionary idea encouraged our countries to engage in constant dialogue to ensure lasting peace.
The founding fathers of the European project were aware that it could only work with the support of their peoples. Economic co-operation and convergence had to go hand in hand with shared wellbeing. The promise of prosperity brought about by economic convergence had to be accompanied by social convergence. That promise was partially kept.
The construction of a social Europe has however been longer and more tortuous than the economic project. Achievements such as the adoption of the euro strengthened the integration and interdependence of the economies of member states but did not prevent the perception spreading of a gap between institutions and citizens. In the absence of European instruments to compensate for the resulting social imbalances, Europe has been perceived as exclusively at the service of economic and financial interests.
The 2008 crisis reinforced this image. By accentuating mistrust towards the European institutions, it encouraged the development of populist and Eurosceptic or Europhobic movements.
It took almost ten years for social issues finally to return to the heart of political debates. The adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights in 2017 marked a turning point. The solidarity-based approach to the Covid-19 health crisis bears witness to the importance of this revamped social dimension. Yet progress is still too timid, given the challenges we are facing.
European workers want a strong, supportive and protective social Europe. Today, ahead of the informal Council of Ministers for Social Affairs and Employment, we are mobilising to demand that European decision-makers make up for the years of delay by approving, by the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a European directive on minimum wages and collective bargaining that is as ambitious as possible.
This directive should require member states with statutory minimum wages to set decent standards, so that all workers in Europe can live with dignity from their work. While preserving well-established national practices in some member states guaranteeing the autonomy of social partners, the directive must also require member states to define, together with social partners themselves, the measures necessary to develop and strengthen collective bargaining in all European countries.
Collective bargaining, especially at cross-industry and branch level, is the best tool for negotiating decent wages and a fairer sharing of the wealth produced by workers. Beyond the question of wages, collective bargaining also makes it possible to improve working conditions and to guarantee better involvement of workers in the choices made by their companies.
This directive is a real opportunity for Europe—an opportunity to reconcile its citizens with the European project, by legislating to bring about perceptible changes with a positive impact. The French presidency has made it one of its priorities and is in a position to bring matters to a successful conclusion in the coming weeks. We therefore call on the European institutions and governments to reach an agreement that meets the expectations of workers and, more broadly, of European citizens.
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