What has the EU done for workers (and what are trade unions doing in the EU)?

International issues The Congress of the European Trade Union Confederation is taking place in Vienna. For four days, trade union representatives gather to work across borders to develop a labour market that is truly sustainable for Europe's workers, focusing on fair wages, social justice and democracy.

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Blog post by Monika Arvidsson, Head of International department:

The Congress of the European Trade Union Confederation, ETUC, is taking place in Vienna, from 21 to 24 May. During the final week of political sprint for the European Parliament elections, union representatives from 90 national union organisations in 38 countries and from 10 European sectoral federations meet up. The strategy will be laid out for the cooperation in the coming years. Focus is on decent jobs and wages, just transition, social justice and democracy.

Trade unions started as a democracy movement, demanding influence and dignified conditions in the labour market. We have great success to back upon, but still trade unions are needed as a counter-force - no victory is won forever. The European union must continue to assert fundamental rights regarding organisation, representation, negotiation, gender equality and anti-discrimination.

Through cooperation within the EU, wage-earners have gained rights that may now feel self-evident but were preceded by struggle and tough negotiations. Trade unions and employers have jointly agreed on basic levels of, for example, working hours and parental leave. But progress has also been made in the political sphere: during the past year, a breakthrough took place in the protection of transport workers and in the prevention of fraud and exploitation of foreign hauliers. In addition, we have new safeguards against carcinogenic substances at work. In order to stop wage dumping, everyone who works in the same labour market should have equal pay for equal work. Progress in the political arena which is in tune with the union's efforts for fair conditions in the labour market.

Trade policy, a common policy area within the EU, has been particularly debated the last year. Many jobs are affected by foreign trade, and the EU has modernised both trade agreements and protective instruments with greater attention than before on working conditions. Sustainability chapters have been introduced, and in 2018 the EU took over 135 corrective measures regarding imports into Europe, which is estimated to have protected 320,000 jobs in the sectors concerned.

For millions of Europeans, life is a struggle. Low income, strenuous work environment, precarious employment as well as unemployment. The legitimacy of EU cooperation is influenced by the extent to which a rising tide will lift all boats. Therefore, the EU's new social pillar is important. It was adopted unanimously during the summit in Gothenburg in 2017, and it formulates 20 principles which the member states' politicians must now comply with. The ETUC is in favour of the pillar, the purpose of which is to further develop fair working conditions and equal opportunities in the member states. But one of the most important factors for strengthening Europe's workforce is the ETUC’s demand for constitutional protection of workers' rights. Through a so-called social protocol, people's opportunities and rights in the labour market should weigh at least as heavily as companies' rights in the internal market. This is not the case today.

Coordination at European level that boils down to a daily environment facing a bus driver, a reception clerk, a CNC operator, a store employee there is hardly any other commitment more important than this.

Monika Arvidsson