Skip to content

01.12.2023 12:20

Making the voice of service workers heard in the European Union

In June 2024, EU citizens choose who represents them in the European Parliament. The elections are important for trade unions as EU laws have a direct effect on the status and rights of workers. Therefore, it does matter who decides on the laws.

Euroopan parlamentti ja EU-lippu
Suomesta valitaan Europpan parlamenttiin 15 edustajaa EU-vaalissa 9.6.2024 vii Kuva: Shutterstock

— A level playing field in the European labour market is also an advantage for the Finnish wage earner, says Tiina Huotari, PAM’s expert responsible for advocacy work at European level.

In recent years, the most important EU initiatives for PAM have been corporate responsibility, i.e. companies’ responsibility in the entire supply chain, wage transparency, i.e. narrowing the wage gap between men and women, working conditions for those working in the platform economy, and European Works Councils (EWC).

In order to achieve the goals of European wage earners’ organizations, we need EU laws on working life defining the minimum requirements.

PAM works for a better working life

During the last four years, the EU has decided on many important issues concerning working life. For example, the objective of the minimum wage directive is to reduce poverty and income inequalities by strengthening collective agreements and increasing the proportion of employees covered by collective bargaining.

— This has been a good start, but new goals to reduce the uncertainty and insecurity around work must be decided upon right at the beginning of the new election period, emphasizes Tiina Huotari.

— Among other things, digitalization has brought new needs to develop occupational health and safety. For example, protecting the employee’s right to disconnect is important in the service sector. We should also have rules for how algorithms and AI are used in working life.

Responsibility for the whole supply chain

States and municipalities have a lot of influence when they purchase products and services from private operators.

— Compliance with laws and collective agreements concerning working life should be a special provision in public procurements. The cheapest price should not be the only factor in public procurements, and the effects on people and working conditions are not taken into account, says Huotari.

—We need more corporate responsibility. One central aim of legislation on corporate responsibility must be the implementation of human rights due diligence throughout the company’s entire value chain.

Workers must be heard

PAM’s goals also include ensuring that employee representatives are heard more when decisions concerning them are made in the EU and European companies.

— When the EU fights against global warming and strives for carbon neutrality, the participation and consultation of employees should be included at all levels of decision-making. This is also important for increasing the acceptability of the measures that are taken. And since the service sectors also play a role in reducing emissions, it is important to invest in training and skills, Huotari emphasizes.

If a company operates in several EU countries, it must have a European Works Council (EWC), where employee representatives from different countries meet.

—The European Commission has promised to put forward an initiative to strengthen the current EWC rules, and do it before the end of this mandate period. The goal is that the consultation and information of employees would be realized better than today. We have worked a lot on this matter, and we do hope that the timetable the Commission has presented will be met.

Important that workers use their right to vote at the EU election 2024

In the 2019 European Parliament elections, only 40 percent of Finns exercised their right to vote. The elderly and those with the highest incomes voted most actively.

Tiina Huotari encourages PAM members to vote in the elections in June.

—By voting, you can have a direct impact on who decides on EU legislation. We need a European Parliament that is in favour of and progressive in issues related to working life and social security. And it is important that we have a parliament that represents all kinds of people. What would happen if a significant part of the people were not represented?

Kristjan Bragason at the PAM Union Congress in October 2023.

—The European Parliament elections are important for service sector professionals in Finland. We need a strong and progressive European Parliament to protect workers’ rights in Finland, says Kristjan Bragason, the general secretary of EFFAT, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, and Tourism Trade Unions, referring to the Orpo-Purra Government’s reforms of working life mainly related to weakening the position and rights of employees.

Oliver Röthig, the regional secretary of UNI Europa, urges to vote for pro-employee candidates.

— It is a matter of fact that with a minority of progressive and socially minded MEPs in the European Parliament, it is incredibly difficult to push EU legislation that promotes equality, decent work and fair distribution of wealth.

As an example, Röthig mentions wage theft meaning that the worker is paid a salary that is lower than the collective agreement or the law.

— Wage theft is a huge problem across Europe. We need a strong legal mechanism that criminalises it. And we need to tackle this at the European level during the next mandate.

Text: Hildur Boldt

Image: Shutterstock

Manifesto of the European trade union confederation

The vision carried by this manifesto is of Europe as a community of people and nations where everyone is free to live in peace and work without fear of poverty, insecurity, disrespect, discrimination, violence, war or oppression: A Europe that is a great place to live, work, bring up your children, care for your loved-ones, and retire and grow old. A Europe that delivers the European Pillar of Social Rights in practice. A Europe that protects fundamental human rights, including reproductive rights, thriving to achieve gender equality.

Twelve commitments for a fair deal for workers that political parties and candidates are invited to endorse:

  1. Better jobs and incomes
  2. End precarious work and improve working conditions
  3. Support for trade unions, collective bargaining and social
  4. Safe work
  5. Reject austerity – an economy for the people and the planet
  6. Strong industrial policy and public
  7. Public money for social progress
  8. Ensure just transitions
  9. Fight against social dumping and
  10. A fair, rights-based approach to migration and asylum
  11. A progressive role for Europe in the world
  12. A fairer and more democratic Europe

Read the entire manifesto

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) represents over 45 million workers and their 93 national trade union organisations and 10 European trade union federations.