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Decent work for all

Report | Doc. 13456 | 21 March 2014

Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development
Rapporteur :
Mr Roel DESEYN, Belgium, EPP/CD
Reference to committee: Doc.12269, Doc.12740 and Doc. 13130, Reference 3948 of 24 April 2013. 2014 - Second part-session


Access to employment in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity is paramount for individual and collective well-being. Although international and European law obliges States to protect the right to work and rights at work, making decent work a reality for all remains an uphill battle. Global and intra-European asymmetries have eroded labour rights, job security and quality employment prospects for millions of people, notably for young people and migrants, as well as the “working poor”.

The report highlights the need for more co-operation and solidarity from the international community to promote a decent work agenda under the new sustainable development framework beyond 2015 and multilateral or bilateral trade agreements. European States are called on to improve the consistency of national measures towards fulfilling their international commitments and harmonising European social standards. Special efforts are needed to ensure occupational safety and to effectively enforce a ban on child labour under the age of 15, in line with the European Social Charter and through more regular labour inspections.

Governments’ partnership with the private sector and civil society should help modernise a social contract in society and enhance corporate social responsibility, notably concerning activities in countries where the risk of social dumping and exploitation is high.

A Draft resolutionNote

1. Work is an essential aspect of human life. It underpins individual and collective well-being by providing a source of subsistence, development, self-accomplishment and social inclusion. International and European human rights law lays down obligations for States to achieve the full realisation of the right to work and to protect rights at work. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the European Committee on Social Rights of the Council of Europe further insist on the need to respect a full range of labour-related rights which make work decent and accessible for all. Decent work hence refers to productive employment in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.
2. Across Europe, public anxiety keeps growing about the erosion of labour rights, job security and quality employment prospects, notably for young people and migrants. Protracted economic stagnation, market deregulation and austerity in the West have destroyed more jobs than new ones have been created, and in-work precariousness has sprawled. This contrasts with the dynamism in developing countries, which are making quick gains in competitiveness and living standards, but lag behind on labour rights. Global and intra-European asymmetries underlie a “race to the bottom” on salaries, social protection and employment conditions, thus escalating inequalities and leading to social dumping.
3. Building an inclusive and prosperous society through decent work requires global solutions. The Parliamentary Assembly reiterates the importance of international co-operation and broader solidarity between richer and poorer States, not least towards promoting decent work under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the new sustainable development framework beyond 2015. European countries must work together to root human rights and decent work strategies more explicitly in the multilateral trade system and bilateral trade and investment agreements.
4. Council of Europe member States must also strengthen the implementation of the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35, “the Charter”). This instrument complements the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) regarding social and economic rights by linking labour-related norms with legal and social protection, just employment conditions and free movement of persons. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union already refers explicitly to the European Social Charter. However, further steps are needed to improve the consistency of national measures for fulfilling international commitments and harmonising European social standards.
5. Only a healthy and safe working environment enables working people to realise their full potential. The Assembly considers that governments can make no concessions on occupational safety levels and must ensure that these are thoroughly respected by all employers. It moreover stresses the need for better enforcement of a ban on child work under the age of 15, as stipulated in the European Social Charter. Regular labour inspections are crucial in this respect and need adequate resources at all times so as to play their role fully.
6. Solidarity action to improve social safety nets, re-skilling and the mobility of workers is no longer the exclusive responsibility of governments. Modernising a social contract in society requires a stronger partnership with the private sector and civil society to uphold the decent work agenda. The Assembly calls for the strengthening of corporate social responsibility and ethics, in particular concerning the relationship of enterprises with sub-contractors and their sourcing policies in third countries where the risks of exploitation of workers are substantial.
7. With a view to preserving social peace and justice through “more and better jobs”, the Assembly recommends that member States:
7.1 consolidate national strategies for securing decent work conditions for their entire population and promote intra-European convergence in this area;
7.2 ensure that work-related rights, conditions and protection, as well as binding social and environmental clauses with accompanying control mechanisms, are systematically built into bilateral and multilateral free trade and investment agreements and into the new sustainable development framework replacing MDGs after 2015;
7.3 guarantee coherent implementation of global core labour norms and relevant provisions of the European Social Charter, in particular those concerning freedom of association and collective bargaining, fair remuneration and social coverage, non-discrimination and employment services, protection of minors and healthy and a safe work environment;
7.4 adhere to the European Social Charter’s collective complaints procedure, if they have not yet done so;
7.5 use contacts with employers’ associations with a view to enhancing corporate commitments to social dialogue, job creation, preservation and sharing, adequate remuneration of capital and labour, healthy workplace organisation and skills development;
7.6 ensure a regulatory level-playing field for small, medium and large enterprises, promote fair competition through national taxation instruments and reinforce measures against tax avoidance;
7.7 secure national minimum wage and social protection floors at a level that corresponds to domestic development needs;
7.8 facilitate the mission of labour inspectorates and dialogue between social partners to tackle irregular employment and abuses in working conditions (notably as regards minimum and maximum working hours, workplace safety and special protection for vulnerable population groups);
7.9 use the funding and project opportunities available through the Council of Europe Development Bank for targeted support to improving employment offers for young people, minorities and the disabled;
7.10 put in place new communication channels (including social media and networks) for reporting abuses of labour norms to public authorities;
7.11 provide for safeguards and tough sanctions against irregular employment and improve contractual social guarantees for posted, young, migrant and domestic workers.
7.12 eliminate the pay gap between women and men.

B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Deseyn, rapporteur

1 Introduction: work as a basis for a life in dignity and an inclusive society

1. Work is an essential aspect of human life. It is central to most people’s well-being by linking individuals into communities and providing them with means of subsistence, development and self-accomplishment. The importance of work in society has been recognised by enshrining the right to work in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more generally, in international human rights law, such as the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
2. Whilst the Universal Declaration asserts that “[e]veryone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”, the Covenant emphasises the right to work from the angle of individual freedoms, socio-economic development and States’ obligations “to achieve the full realization of this right”. The International Labour Organization (ILO) further insists on the need to respect a full range of labour-related rights which make work decent and accessible for all.
3. Across Europe, there is a growing anxiety about the erosion of labour rights, increased job insecurity and the lack of quality employment prospects, notably for young people. The vicious circle of economic stagnation, market deregulation and fiscal austerity, as well as the “dark side” of globalisation, bite hard into the competitiveness of national economies and the living standards of the population. Although, on the one hand, globalisation has created new economic opportunities for all (thanks to freer international trade and more dynamic labour markets), it has, on the other hand, also triggered a “race to the bottom” on salaries, social protection and employment conditions, resulting in unbearable increases in inequalities.
4. It is particularly worrying that Europe’s trading partners in many developing countries perceive protection of human rights (including socio-economic rights) and the environment as protectionism rather than as a development path to follow. These divergences escalate asymmetries and tensions between countries, distort a global level playing field and lead to de facto social, and in some cases also environmental, dumping.Note
5. Bearing in mind the Council of Europe’s core values relating to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as societal challenges stemming from globalisation, I intend to explore avenues for action by European countries towards redressing global imbalances and securing decent work for all. On the basis of relevant instruments and activities of this Organisation, the European Union and other international organisations (such as the ILO, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Trade Union Confederation), as well as independent research sources, I will highlight policy options for achieving a better balance between economic development and social solidarity.

2 The concept of decent work and the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda

6. Decent work – as a concept and an agenda – was introduced by the ILO in 1999 and has since then been widely endorsed by the international community. As the ILO puts it, “decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men”. In short, decent work refers to productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.
7. Numerous studies show that for many people work, in particular decent work, is a route for escaping poverty and ensuring a sustainable livelihood. Better jobs lead to a better life for all: living in dignity for individuals translates into quality development for the communities they live in, thus building more cohesive, more inclusive and more prosperous societies. The ILO’s Decent Work Agenda hence lays emphasis on four fundamental aspects:
  • access to employment and fair remuneration;
  • rights at work (notably respect for the core labour standards);Note
  • solidarity through social protection;
  • communication at work through social dialogue.
8. Whereas employment opportunities and job creation largely depend on the sound performance of national economies, access to jobs, remuneration policies, due respect for labour norms and adequate social protection rely considerably on the social contract between stakeholders (businesses, government and civil society). Despite governmental efforts so far, an estimated 1.1 billion people, including some 200 million unemployed persons, live in poverty worldwide. In Europe, half of poor households rely on one wage earner in the family.
9. The ILO therefore pleads for making decent work a global goal and a national reality with a view to ensuring equity and social progress, as well as eradicating poverty. This clearly requires more international co-operation and broader solidarity between richer and poorer States, not least towards honouring commitments in the framework of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the ILO, there is an urgent need to create some 600 million jobs over the next decade so as to generate sustainable growth and maintain social cohesion.Note It is therefore essential that decent work challenges be adequately taken into account in the new development framework on MDGs beyond 2015.

3 Decent work in relation to European social standards, objectives and integration

10. European countries share a long history of commitment to social policies that concern more or less directly various aspects of decent work. The European social model born in the post-war years combines national commitments to economic development and full employment with adequate social protection for the whole population and social cohesion. Thus, the 1957 Treaty of Rome already contained provisions on working conditions, standard of living, equal pay for equal work, social security for migrants and increased mobility of workers, which paved the way for the adoption of the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35) in 1961 and the revised European Social Charter (ETS No. 163) in 1996.Note
11. If the fundamental Council of Europe treaty – the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, “the Convention”) focuses more on civil and political rights, some of its articles (notably Articles 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14) outlaw certain practices that might occur in employment (inhuman or degrading treatment, forced labour, infringements concerning personal security, freedom of conscience, expression and association, privacy and discrimination).
12. The European Social Charter (“the Charter”) complements the Convention as regards social and economic rights: it not only covers labour-related rights, but also links them with legal and social protection, employment conditions, vocational guidance, training and free movement of persons. However, unlike the Convention, the Charter does not provide for consideration of complaints by individuals on alleged violations of the Charter by States that are bound by it. Under the Charter, the Additional Protocol (ETS No. 158) provides for a system of collective complaints,Note but only 15 member States are bound by this procedure.
13. In the European Union, free movement of people (and workers) is one of the four pillars of the Single Market launched in 1993. It was then that the first fears were voiced about social dumping seen as a “side effect” of the Single Market. Social dumping is understood as any practice – in breach of national or international social laws in force – aimed at gaining economic advantage, particularly in terms of competitiveness.Note
14. Converging concerns about unemployment and competitiveness then prompted the launching of the European Social Agenda in 2000 (as part of the Lisbon Strategy), with emphasis on the need for a new balance between flexibility and security in a changing global context, as well as insisting on the modernisation of social protection systems and the fight against social exclusion.
15. That said, wide social disparities have been and remain a reality in Europe, as full employment, better living and working conditions, social dialogue and equal treatment of men and women prove difficult to achieve in practice. If the “Iron curtain” now belongs to Europe’s history, socio-economic divides persist and push many Europeans to become migrant workers who more easily accept employment conditions that fall below what is qualified as decent work. Inexistent or insufficient co-operation between labour inspectorates of different European countries and weakened capacities because of budget austerity reduce opportunities for spotting abuses of labour legislation, notably the exploitation of migrant workers.
16. Much resentment and controversy was stirred up across Europe in recent years by the adoption of the European Union services directive (Directive 2006/123/EC), or the so-called “Bolkestein Directive” (named after the Dutch commissioner who designed it), in 2006. Opponents of this instrument feared that it could lead to unfair competition between workers from various European countries with different levels of wages and social protection, whilst supporters argued that it would help improve the provision of services across the continent. Indeed, services represent about 20% of intra-European Union trade, but about 70% of jobs.
17. Seven years later, results are viewed as mixed. Despite safeguards to protect employment conditions (in particular through collective agreements) and positive changes in national regulatory policies (such as the removal of protectionist or discriminatory clauses), there have also been negative trends of the downward levelling of salaries and social coverage, mainly for posted workers, – away from the ideal of “same work–same salary”. This is more visible in the cross-border transportation servicesNote and the construction sector. Clearly, market liberalisation, which is important for European economic integration, is not sufficiently synchronised with progress in harmonising social provisions, in particular as regards worker-related rights and their protection. This is all the more pertinent in the light of ongoing globalisation and the economic crisis.

4 Defending European social standards in the context of globalisation and economic crisis

18. Globalisation – in full swing since the mid-1990s – has overall stimulated economic growth and, at times, growth in employment. But not all jobs thus created have been of the sort which secures a decent standard of living for workers and their families or which helps fight poverty. The precarious and insecure jobs of today slow down the creation of national wealth and cannot secure sufficient funding of social protection systems, thus worsening existing imbalances. The economic crisis has aggravated the situation further.

4.1 A “jobs crisis”: risks of crawling social dumping due to structural problems and informal economy

19. A global trend for low-cost labour and maximising the so-called shareholder value of businesses squeezes overall remuneration levels and puts social protection systems under strain as revenue diminishes but benefit payouts increase. This may eventually lead to social dumping. Such practices mainly concern salaries, social contributions, working hours, working conditions and costs linked to the application of social regulations. Some corporate managers deliberately choose to apply short-term profit-raising strategies that lead to layoffs and a decline in product quality, which may ultimately undermine the long-term competitiveness and viability of European enterprises.
20. Moreover, although job losses since the onset of the global crisis have been significant, unemployment was already high before the crisis in many European economies. What used to be “ordinary unemployment” turned into a more harmful structural problem with the rates of long-term unemployed and youth unemployment soaring. This means that labour market challenges will persist even as the global economy recovers and that policy measures are particularly needed to tackle structural unemployment in addition to stimulating job creation in the short-term. At the same time, “international labour standards must be preserved and promoted if the world is to recover from the economic and employment crisis”, as the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, stated in October 2012 when taking up office.
21. A significant problem across Europe is undeclared work which is part of the informal economy. As the Assembly highlights in the report on “The Underground economy: a threat to democracy, development and the rule of law” (Doc. 12700), “Not only does … undeclared labour cause serious frictions and security concerns in society in general, but it also distorts the functioning of national welfare systems and erodes corporate compliance with core labour standards”.
22. The report notes that Roma communities and other vulnerable groups (such as minorities and migrants) face a particularly high risk of “sliding into the underground economy where they become locked in by seeking minimum subsistence”. This is particularly true in times of economic crisis as job losses in the formal economy actually give a boost to job creation in the informal sector. According to the ILO, the share of informal employment remains high at more than 40% in two thirds of emerging and developing countries.Note In the developed countries, the informal economy accounts for about 18.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) (in 2013) in the European Union and some 8.6% in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.Note
23. Moreover, at least 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour and exploitation in the sex industry, agriculture, construction, domestic work, fisheries and manufacturing. This includes 9 million persons who were trafficked inside countries or across borders. A quarter of all victims (5.5 million) are children under the age of 18. In Europe, forced labour concerns an estimated 1.5 per 1 000 inhabitants in the European Union and 4 per 1 000 in countries of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.Note

4.2 The resurgence of child labour in Europe

24. With a continuing rise in poverty and precariousness of families, there is now more and more evidence of the return of child labour in Europe. Undeclared and often underpaid work by children is spreading in the poorest or otherwise disadvantaged urban and rural areas of southern Europe and among migrants. This phenomenon is not only in breach of the ILO’s core labour standards and the European Social Charter (which bans child work under the age of 15), but is also depriving the children concerned of schooling and development opportunities, as well as subjecting children to abuse, health hazards and exploitation in criminal networks.
25. According to a local government report of 2011 on the child labour situation in Naples and the surrounding Campania region, more than 54 000 children left the education system between 2005 and 2009; 38% of them were under 13 years old. The Italian Confederation of workers (CGIL) estimates that about 300 000 children aged 8 to 16 are illegally employed throughout Italy,Note mainly in southern regions. Another study of June 2013 confirms that no less than 5.2% or 260 000 children younger than 16 are working.Note
26. Other countries in Europe, including Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Turkey, are concerned by the resurgence of child labour.Note In July 2012, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights warned that austerity measures in Portugal has led to growing child poverty, rising school dropouts and a resurgence of child labour. In his statement of August 2013,Note the Commissioner referred to UNESCO data showing that 29% of children aged 7 to 14 in Georgia are at work whilst the figure for Albania is 19% and close to 1 million as regards the Russian Federation. Overall, however, reliable data on child labour in European countries – a “taboo subject” – is missing, as both the Commissioner and the ILO admit.Note
27. It is particularly alarming that many of the children at work in Europe are in hazardous occupations, be it in agriculture, construction, small factories, family businesses or on the street. The Commissioner thus points to the patterns of child labour in the tobacco industry in Bulgaria or in harvesting activities in the Republic of Moldova, as well as long working hours in the United Kingdom. Hazardous child work is also reported in countries such as Albania, Georgia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.

4.3 Precarious employment

28. In addition to some 27 million unemployed in the European Union alone (or about 11% of the workforce, but with youth unemployment hitting 23% on average), Europe is facing a growing problem of underemployment and precarious employment due to low-paid and involuntary part-time jobs and short-term contracts.Note This market rush for cheap labour leads to a dramatic increase in poverty not only among the unemployed and underemployed but also among full-time employed yet low-cost workers (“the working poor”). Moreover, as the President of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) highlighted at the Council of Europe Conference on the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October 2012, shrinking income from work and social benefits – due to the economic crisis and austerity programmes – penalises entire families through eroding access to basic public services, child poverty and the loss of housing.
29. The latter trend is accentuated by the delocalisation of enterprises to countries with lower labour costs and lower standards of social protection – including among the Council of Europe member States, which have widely differing average remuneration levels and social regulations. Thus employment gains for one country nearly automatically mean job and revenue losses in countries affected by delocalisation. Moreover, the possibility of delocalisation is sometimes used by employers to compress salary levels and employment conditions of existing employees which leads to de facto social dumping.
30. Similarly, social dumping also occurs when foreign workers arrive from a country with lower social protection and wages than those in the host country. These workers in search of employment abroad will more readily accept unfavourable working conditions in the host country than the local workers, which in turn creates a negative pressure on average or minimum wages and terms of contract. Moreover, in most cases, such conditions are illegal, because they violate collective agreements that cover all employers and employees of a sector.
31. At the same time, European countries need to address huge external pressures due to the global open trade system that encourages the mobility of workers, enterprises and capital, as well as competition based on the lowest common denominator in terms of labour provisions. It is in the interest of both European countries and their international trade partners among developing countries to ensure that decent work is systematically integrated into bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. As stated in the final document of the 2012 Parliamentary Conference on the WTO, “the trade-employment nexus needs to be critically accounted for within the entire multilateral trading system, aiming at full implementation of the ILO core labour standards and facilitation of labour mobility”.

4.4 Fair competition: “more and better jobs” versus protectionism

32. Persistent economic liberalisation – as part and parcel of globalisation – has increased the interdependence of States and has made States more dependent on international markets for finance and trade. Whereas the role of the State in the national economy has generally diminished, the power of enterprises, in particular multinational ones, has grown significantly. Although States remain key regulators domestically and main negotiators of international agreements, large enterprises and some financial institutions wield substantial influence in parallel on the terms of international competition and economic integration.
33. This process has resulted in very uneven gains and losses in terms of jobs, income and employment conditions, with overall inequalities rising – both within and between States – to the disadvantage of low-skilled, unqualified, less protected or less flexible workers. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), these disparities are mainly due to the developments in labour markets, in particular as regards earnings, against the backdrop of economic globalisation, skill-biased technological changes, institutional and regulatory reforms (for example minimum wages have gone down) and changes in employment patterns, household structures (more single-parent families) and tax and benefit systems.
34. Research also shows an erosion of well-being at work and a growing incidence of work-related burnouts, diseases, accidents and even suicides due to intensifying professional pressures. French researchers have identified a direct link between job insecurity and suicides, while American psychologists have started to refer to “econocides” to depict a wave of suicides related to the current economic crisis and job losses.Note Indeed, because of higher levels of anxiety, depression and the feeling of hopelessness, as well as lower self-esteem, the unemployed are two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those who have jobs. Moreover, emotional distress at work, workplace bullying, harassment and productivity pressures also lead to more suicides, injuries, depression and deteriorating health in general.Note
35. Workplace malaise and accidents seem to be more common where workloads soar, companies undergo restructuring or corporate policies neglect working conditions. Examples of work-related human disasters abound both in Europe and among its trading partners, in particularly in developing countries. For instance, since 2008, over 60 employees of Orange, a French telecom company, committed suicide; at least 1 133 people perished and over 2 500 were injured (many disabled permanently) in the collapse of a decrepit garment factory in Dhaka (Bangladesh) in April 2013 and hundreds of workers die each year in Chinese factories due to poor working conditions.Note Social unrest is also increasing in most countries compared to the pre-crisis period: its risk is the highest among the European Union countries (up from 34% in 2006-2007 to 46% in 2011-2012 out of 71 economies for which relevant data is available).Note
36. This means that the benefits of open markets and free trade are not automatic and are not shared evenly across society. As an OECD, ILO, World Bank and WTO joint study points out, “if support for open markets is to be sustained, … costs [associated with the reallocation of labour and capital] need to be recognised and policies put in place to assist workers and communities to adjust to a more competitive environment”.Note
37. More international competition and greater dynamism of global competitors represent critical challenges for many European countries: all actors of the value chain – enterprises, professional associations, policy makers and workers – have to adapt to rapidly changing labour market requirements whilst trying to consolidate social achievements and progress. Global “rules of the game” that European countries have accepted by joining the WTO provide little tolerance for protectionism, or discrimination, of any sort. Yet the existing WTO rules together with the binding dispute settlement mechanism do not adequately take into account fundamental human rights and values, including labour and social protection rights.
38. Europe which is a global reference for the defence of human rights should work towards rooting human rights principles more explicitly in the multilateral trade system. In short, European countries ought to export not only goods and services but also the values they cherish. The European Union in particular can use bilateral trade agreements to promote fair trade and press its trading partners to respect work-related rights.Note In the case of the free trade agreement between the European Union and Colombia and Peru (in force since August 2013), some clauses refer specifically to human rights and labour standards. For example, Article 269 of the agreement states that both parties shall “promote the development of international trade in a way that contributes to productive employment and decent work for all”.Note
39. Developing countries, too, have a duty to contribute to a “fair globalisation based on decent work”, as the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation of 10 June 2008 points out. With this Declaration the ILO members agreed that the breach of fundamental principles and rights at work cannot be used as a comparative advantage and that labour standards should not be used for protectionist purposes. A “win-win” situation for developing and developed countries can be achieved if all States accept to adequately enforce core labour standards and thus seek quality economic and social development. European channels for the allocation of public procurement contracts and development aid could be better used for fostering solidarity and labour rights.
40. Moreover, Europeans should seek to compete more on the basis of higher quality, added value, efficient regulation, better workplace organisation and enhanced innovation rather than on a labour costs basis, so as to take more advantage of the race to the top and not to the bottom. Only fair, not abusive competition can be a vector of social progress for Europe and its commercial partners. As the Assembly debate on human rights and business in October 2010 has shown, Europe needs to look more closely both at the rights of enterprises and their responsibilities towards the society, not least in relation to third countries.Note In the light of growing public consensus in this regard, corporate social responsibilities must be clarified and strengthened – with adequate guidance from State and European authorities. In this respect, the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises offer a good framework which resumes the expectations of the international community with regard to multinationals in quite a detailed manner.

4.5 Implementing European social standards to anchor decent work and combat social dumping

41. The European social standards are clearly stated in the European Social Charter, which is the most authoritative legal reference setting benchmarks for upholding the European social model, notably as regards labour regulations and social protection. The Charter currently binds 43 Council of Europe member States who ratified it (except for Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland). The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights makes explicit reference to the European Social Charter. However, European Union accession to the European Social Charter would considerably improve the consistency of national measures for implementing international commitmentsNote and avoid clashing signals being sent to member States on the alignment of national legislation with European social standards and case law.Note
42. In 2012, the European Committee of Social Rights drew the attention of our Assembly to the selection of cases of non-conformity with the provisions of the Charter, including as regards labour-related norms. As the Assembly’s rapporteur on decent work, I wish to highlight the list of pertinent conclusions which appears in the appendix, and urge parliaments of the countries concerned to adjust national legislation. In this context, I also welcome the holding of the very fruitful parliamentary co-operation seminar on 18 October 2013 by the Sub-Committee on the European Social Charter to alert members of national parliamentary committees dealing with social rights to the specific need to “improv[e] employment conditions of young workers (under the age of 18)” in line with the Charter’s Article 7 (the right of children and young persons to protection). For 2012 and 2013, the European Committee of Social Rights found non-conformities with the Charter’s provisions on “employment, training and equal opportunities” and on “safe and healthy working conditions” in virtually all countries.Note
43. In addition, we should note some of the most recent decisions by the European Committee of Social Rights. The Committee thus ruled that the right to strike is restricted in several sectors of the Bulgarian and Swedish economy in a manner that is not in conformity with the Charter and that the new apprenticeship contract (containing abusive clauses on the termination of contract without due notice and indemnity) and differential regulations on minimum salary for young workers, introduced in 2010 as part of austerity programme in Greece, are not in conformity with the Charter’s provisions. Although the Committee’s decisions are not binding upon Parties having accepted the collective complaints procedure, they nevertheless constitute a legal obligation for the States concerned to adjust their national legislative framework accordingly.
44. Among the member States, many countries have provisions for minimum wages,Note incentives for increasing labour force participation and the duration of professional life, as well as flexible arrangements on working time, legal guarantees on “equal pay for equal work” and employer obligations on training or retraining of workers. Some countries have also put in place mechanisms of targeted support by “topping up” low salaries paid in the private sector or providing tax breaks on employers’ social contributions and job creation for the most disadvantaged (in terms of employment) population groups such as young people and the disabled. It is essential that such targeted support be clearly linked to employer obligations to deliver, maintain and enhance employment opportunities and conditions over the long term so that social objectives are achieved fully rather than simply fuelling the profits of private companies that fail to pay decent salaries.
45. Important policy pointers from the ILO appear in Recommendation No. 202 of 14 June 2012, concerning national social protection floors which set basic national social security guarantees derived from human rights treaties and designed according to a country’s level of development.Note This new international standard links social and labour policies more closely and aims to expand essential health care and basic income security (via cash transfers, public services or housing assistance) with a view to preventing or attenuating poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion. It explicitly targets people employed in the informal, as well as the formal economy, who should all benefit from social security. At the same time, support is given to the growth of formal employment and the reduction of informality. The European Union’s social protection committee included the social protection floors in its work programme for intra-European and external action.

4.6 Impact of deregulation on labour and social protection: is flexicurity an answer?

46. Given long-standing tensions between labour markets’ demand for greater flexibility and the aspiration of the population for social security and protection, flexicurity appeared as a providential solution in Europe offering “the best of both worlds”. Initially a feature of Danish and Dutch reform programmes in the 1990s, flexicurity was embraced by the European Union in 2007 as a labour market strategy.
47. The flexibility aspect, however, had gained ground over the security aspect much earlier in a number of European Union countries (notably Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom) and across central and eastern European countries (as part of their transition to the market economy). A change of circumstances with the economic crisis has rapidly eroded social protection programmes, thus leading to an even greater imbalance between flexibility and security. In the case of zero-hour-contracts in the United Kingdom, flexibility is pushed to the extreme. Here, employees are “on call”, which means there is no guaranteed level of regular earnings, working hours or social coverage.Note If flexicurity is to remain a valid strategy, there is an urgent need to redress that balance in many European countries grappling with unemployment, poverty and austerity budgets.
48. In this context, the Swedish experienceNote with deregulation, budget discipline and a vast overhaul of the welfare State offers some interesting insights for other European countries. From a stagnant benefit-based country in the 1990s, Sweden transformed itself into a vibrant economy with still low inequalities, even if these have increased rapidly in recent years. A key to this success has been a strong social dialogue between trade unions and employers for negotiating differentiated minimum wages in various sectors and an optimised redistribution by the State whereby lower taxes on labour (especially low-skilled labour) and modest benefits encourage everyone to work. A trap of low-wages in low-skilled jobs is mitigated by strong and highly efficient public services that support child-care, education, training and job-search amongst others. Finally, the national pension system’s benefits have been indexed to the country’s economic growth and hence to budget revenue.

5 The need for better recognition of social capital and an integrated approach to decent work and development

49. Work is an increasingly central part of our daily lives. Even the boundaries between work and private life get blurred as modern technologies have enabled real-time connectivity with a workplace and facilitated teleworking. Work-related decisions by both employers and employees thus have major repercussions on society at large. Working people can no longer be perceived only as “expenditure items” in bookkeeping. Their work creates value for society as a whole and their role deserves to be recognised fully as social capital which is just as crucial for development as physical capital.
50. The world of work and society as a whole have to better value people for their potential: modernising a social contract by embracing an integrated approach to decent work and development is a must if we want to preserve social peace and cohesion. The structural changes our society is going through might seriously damage the social fabric, but they can also trigger decent-work-based strategies, using interdependencies between countries to press for more balanced development.
51. Social media and networking have transformed the way people get informed, communicate and work. These tools can also help put pressure on governments to mainstream decent-work strategies through policies, and on employers to respect fundamental rights at work. In an information age, it takes seconds for the news on abuses of labour rights to reach every household and for civic revolt to snowball into sanctions against the public image of abusers. This power of the grass-root level should not be underestimated – first and foremost – by the working people themselves. International institutions too can use digital channels more actively to organise public campaigns for decent work in order to sustain or to stimulate governmental action.
52. Corporate actors are understandably sceptical and wary of any interference with “business as usual” and workers’ demands. But it takes two to tango: every working person is also a potential client that no business logic can afford to neglect. Happy, committed and loyal employees create more value for a company because of increased efficiency, creativeness that is rewarded and less absenteeism or work-related accidents. Obviously, in most cases, what is good for employees is also good for the company. Small enterprises, which constitute the vast majority of employers across the globe, should receive clear policy signals from governments in favour of job creation, stronger corporate ethics and investment in people.

6 Concluding remarks on strategies for the future

53. Decent work is not a utopia of policy makers. If we want to build an inclusive and prosperous society, everyone must have a fair chance to participate and contribute through work that is respectful of fundamental rights. The first task of politicians is therefore to stimulate employment, job creation and job preservation through active, if not proactive, structural policies. These concern not only macroeconomic tools, but also educational systems, public services and social protection models. Both theory and practice confirm that minimum salary provisions and social protection floors are essential for balancing public and private sector efforts to provide just remuneration for work in line with the standard of living in a country.
54. The key aspect of the decent work agenda is about the protection of rights at work. This is the most complex, multifaceted and challenging task. Governments have no choice but to take the realities of globalisation into account so as to help employers adjust to competitive pressures and ensure a level playing field for small, medium and large enterprises alike. National taxation instruments have to promote fair competition. Tax avoidance by large enterprises and increasingly unequal remuneration of capital and labour are the biggest enemies of social justice and equitable sharing of benefits from global trade.
55. Only a healthy and safe working environment enables working people to realise their full potential. In this area, governments should make no concessions on occupational safety standards and must ensure that these are thoroughly implemented. Effective and regular labour inspections are therefore crucial and must be supported at all times. They have a special role to play in detecting forced labour, irregular employment and abuses of working conditions (notably as regards working hours, workplace safety and special protection for vulnerable persons, such as disabled people, minors and migrants). Given the growing levels of stress at work, employers should be encouraged to review workplace organisation with a view achieving a more rational sharing of workloads, skills and tasks.
56. Child labour is still an issue in the world, where one in ten children are affected, and also in Europe, where data is patchy but nonetheless alarming. Bearing in mind a ban on child work under the age of 15 – as stipulated in the European Social Charter –, it is essential that the Council of Europe member States carry out an in-depth analysis of the situation. Spotting patterns of child labour in hazardous occupations is a major priority for tackling root problems in domestic labour regulations and practice, and also child poverty.
57. In most countries, young people are confronted with special difficulties in finding jobs with satisfactory employment conditions. Increasing flexibility of contractual policies, coupled with adequate unemployment benefits, is justified by flexicurity strategies, but it should not be allowed to perpetuate precarious terms of employment and discriminatory practices. Additional safeguards in labour legislation are necessary to guarantee a minimum level of in-work security and social protection for young workers.
58. Solidarity mechanisms for improving social safety nets, re-skilling and the mobility of workers are not an exclusive domain of governments. Redefining a social contract in modern society requires a stronger commitment of the private sector, alongside public authorities and civil society, to uphold the decent work agenda. This implies that obligations of enterprises should be strengthened as regards corporate social responsibility and ethics, in particular concerning the relationship with sub-contractors and sourcing policies in third countries where the risks of exploitation of workers are substantial.

Appendix – Selection of conclusions of non-conformity (2011) with the European Social Charter (revised) (by the European Committee of Social Rights)

Regarding the 1996 revised European Social Charter:


Article 7.1: Definition of light work authorised by legislation is not sufficiently precise as there is no definition of the types of work which may be considered light or a list of those which may not.

Article 8.2: Reinstatement is not the rule in case of unlawful dismissal based on pregnancy.


Article 7.3: The daily and weekly working time for children subject to compulsory education is excessive.

(Allowing children to work before school in the morning is, in principle, contrary to Article 7.3. Allowing children aged 15 years, still subject to compulsory education, to deliver newspapers from 6 a.m. for up to two hours a day, five days a week before school is not in conformity with the Charter. Article 140 of the Labour Code establishes a shorter working time for young workers at the age of 14 to 16, namely up to 24 hours per week. The duration of the daily uninterrupted rest for employees at the age of 14 to 16 may not be less than 14 hours, which means that they can work up to 10 hours per day. Reference is made to a minimum framework specified in the Council Directive 94/33/EC of 22 June 1994 on protection of young people at work, which establishes that working time of children must be limited to two hours on a school day and 12 hours a week for work performed in term-time outside the hours fixed for school attendance, provided that this is not prohibited by national legislation and/or practice and that in no circumstances may the daily working time exceed seven hours. Therefore, the daily and weekly working time for children subject to compulsory education is excessive and thus not in conformity with Article 7.3 of the Charter.)

Article 7.7: Young workers have the option of giving up their annual holiday for financial compensation.

Article 27.3: Legislation makes no provision for the reinstatement of workers unlawfully dismissed on account of their family responsibilities.


Article 8.1: Unemployment periods are not included in the calculation of the qualifying period for maternity benefits.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Article 7.4: The limit of 40 hours per week for young workers under the age of 16 is excessive.

(Under Article 7.4, domestic law must limit the working hours of persons under 18 years of age who are not subject to compulsory schooling. The limitation may be the result of legislation, regulations, contracts or practice. For persons under 16 years of age, a limit of 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week is contrary to the article. However, for persons over 16 years of age, the same limits are in conformity with the article. Section 29 of the Labour Law in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Section 40.1 of the Labour Law in the Republika Srpska, and Section 22 of the Labour Law in Brčko District prescribe that the working week lasts for 40 hours. This provision is in force for all employees and according to the legislation in place, there are no exceptions of shorter working hours for young persons.)

Article 7.6: Legislative framework does not consider time spent in training with the consent of employer, as a part of the working day.


Article 8.2: The exception to the prohibition of dismissal of pregnant women, in case of relocation of the undertaking where she works if she does not follow the company, is not in conformity with the Charter.

Article 8.5: Women having recently given birth, who are not breastfeeding, do not benefit from the possibility of adjustments of their working conditions or temporary reassignment to an adequate post.


Article 19.6: The requirement for foreign workers wishing to be joined by their close relatives to have been residing lawfully in Cyprus for at least two years is excessive.

(States may require a certain length of residence of migrant workers before their family can join them. A period of a year is acceptable under the Charter.)


Article 19.6: A two-year residence requirement which is imposed on migrant workers who are neither citizens of member States of the European Union, nor citizens of the European Economic Area is excessive.

(States may require a certain length of residence of migrant workers before their family can join them. A period of a year is acceptable under the Charter.)


Article 8.2: No provision is made in law for the reinstatement of women unlawfully dismissed during pregnancy or maternity leave.

Article 27.3: Legislation makes no provision for the reinstatement of workers unlawfully dismissed on grounds of their family responsibilities.


Article 7.2: Legislation does not lay down an absolute prohibition for persons under the age of 18 to work on dangerous activities outside the vocational training context or without having had such training beforehand.

Article 8.3: Women working in the civil service are not entitled to breastfeeding breaks.

Article 19.6: The condition that foreign nationals who wish to be reunited with their family must have been lawfully resident in France for eighteen months is excessive.

(States may require a certain length of residence of migrant workers before their family can join them. A period of a year is acceptable under the Charter.)


Article 27.1: Periods of parental leave are not taken into account in the calculation of pensions.


Article 7.4: Working time of 40 hours a week for persons aged 15 (permitted by Legislative Decree No. 345 of 4 August 1999) is excessive.

(Under Article 7.4, domestic law must limit the working hours of persons under 18 years of age who are not subject to compulsory schooling. The limitation may be the result of legislation, regulations, contracts or practice. For persons under 16 years of age, a limit of 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week is contrary to the article. However, for persons over 16 years of age, the same limits are in conformity with the article.)

Article 8.3: Domestic workers and home workers are not entitled to paid breaks for the purposes of breastfeeding their infants.


Article 19.8: Family members of a migrant worker who have come to the Netherlands for the purposes of family reunion must leave the Netherlands when the migrant worker loses the right to remain (if they have not yet obtained an independent right of residence which is normally granted after three years under Dutch law) when the migrant worker is expelled.

(The Committee considers that a migrant worker’s family members, who have joined him or her through family reunion, may not be expelled as a consequence of his or her expulsion, since these family members have an independent right to stay in the territory.)


Article 7.6: Young workers are not entitled to have their training time paid as working hours.


Article 7.3: The daily and weekly working time for children subject to compulsory education is excessive.

(According to Portuguese legislation: Between the ages of 7 and 12, 3 hours per day and 9 hours per week, with an additional three hours added to each limit in cases when the additional activity takes place on a day on which the child has no school activities. Between the ages of 12 and 16, 4 hours per day and 12 hours per week, with an additional 3 hours added to each limit in cases when the additional activity takes place on a day without school activities. Reference is made to a minimum framework specified in the Council Directive 94/33/EC of 22 June 1994 on protection of young people at work which limits working time of children to 2 hours on a school day and 12 hours a week for work performed in term-time outside the hours fixed for school attendance, provided that this is not prohibited by national legislation and/or practice and that in no circumstances may the daily working time exceed 7 hours. For children aged 7 to 16, the daily working hours are excessive and for children aged 12 to 16, the weekly working hours are excessive.)

Slovak Republic

Article 7.3: Definition of light work authorised by legislation is not sufficiently precise.

Article 8.2: The dismissal of pregnant women and women on maternity leave can be justified by the relocation of the undertaking where they work.


Article 8.3: Breastfeeding breaks are not remunerated.


Article 7.9: A regular medical examination for all young workers is not guaranteed by legislation.

(In application of Article 7.9, domestic law must provide for compulsory regular medical check-ups for under-18 year olds employed in occupations specified by national laws or regulation. These check-ups must be adapted to the specific situation of young workers and the particular risks to which they are exposed.)


Article 7.2: The minimum age of admission to employment in occupations regarded as dangerous or unhealthy is below 18 years.

Article 7.4: Working time for children aged 15 or under is manifestly excessive.

(According to Labour Law No. 4857, children under 15 who have completed their compulsory primary education and no longer attend school may work for a maximum of 7 hours a day and 35 hours a week. These limits may be raised to 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week with regard to the children who have reached the age of 15. The work time is applied in such a way as to ensure that for each 24-hour period children and young workers have a minimum rest period of 14 consecutive hours. During school term, children attending school may work up to 2 hours per day and 10 hours per week. A 30-minute break is allowed for work that lasts between 2 and 4 hours, and a one-hour break is allowed for work that lasts between 4 and 7½ hours).

Article 8.2: Not all employed women are entitled to reinstatement in case of unlawful dismissal during pregnancy or maternity leave.

(According to Labour Law No. 4857, female workers with an open-ended contract that have worked less than 6 months in the same enterprise, those with an open-ended contract working in an enterprise of less than 30 employees, and those with fixed-term contracts are not entitled to reinstatement in case of unlawful dismissal.)

Article 8.5: Pregnant women, women who have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding are only granted unpaid leave when they cannot be reassigned to another post because of the dangerousness of their usual work.

(The Committee underlines that if no reassignment for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding is possible, they should be entitled to paid leave.)

Article 27.2: The law does not provide fathers with leave to bring up their children.


Article 7.1: Definition of light work is not sufficiently precise as there is no definition of the types of work which may be considered light or a list of those which may not.

Regarding the 1961 European Social Charter:


Article 19.6: The exclusion of “welfare support benefits” from the calculation of the income level is likely to hinder family reunion rather than facilitate it.

(With regard to welfare support benefits, the Committee considers that migrant workers who have sufficient income to provide for the members of their families should not automatically be denied the rights of family reunion on the grounds of the origin of such income, where its origin is not lawful or immoral and where they have a right to the granted benefit.)


Article 7.4: Working hours for persons aged 15 are excessive.

(Pursuant to the new Ordinance on the carrying out of employment mediation activities of 2009, the maximum working hours of a young worker who has attained the age of 15 may not be longer than 7 hours a day or 35 hours per week. In exceptional cases, the limit can be raised to 8 hours a day or 40 hours per week. The Committee considers that this limitation of working hours is satisfactory for young workers over the age of 16, but is insufficient in respect of workers under 16.)

Article 8.3: Breastfeeding breaks are not paid as normal working hours and the amount of the benefits paid in lieu may result in loss of salary.

Czech Republic

Article 8.2: The exception to the prohibition of dismissal of women on maternity leave (in case of total or partial relocation of the undertaking’s activities), is not in conformity with the Charter.


Article 19.8: Migrant workers and their families (not European Union citizens) may be expelled for having recourse to social welfare or for being homeless or for substance abuse.


Article 8.1: Periods of unemployment are not taken into account when calculating qualifying periods needed to be entitled to maternity benefits.

Article 19.5: Not all migrant workers from States Parties to the Charter benefit from the tax exemption for the acquisition of a first family home.

Article 19.6: The requirement for a migrant worker to have lived for a period of two years in Greece before being able to exercise family reunion is excessive.

Article 19.8: A migrant worker may be considered as a threat to public order and therefore be expelled simply where he/she has been prosecuted for a crime punishable by at least three months’ imprisonment.


Article 19.4: Certain categories of workers (according to the length of stay in Luxembourg) cannot be elected to works councils.


Article 8.3: Domestic workers are not entitled to breaks for the purposes of breastfeeding their infants.

United Kingdom

Article 19.8: Family members of a migrant worker who are nationals of Contracting Parties that are not members of the EEA or European Union, as well as children of a migrant worker who are nationals of European Union member States or Parties to the EEA but are under 17 years of age, are liable to be expelled following a migrant worker’s deportation.