The Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on the European Social Charter, Tuur Elzinga (Netherlands, UEL), stressed that social rights are not second line human rights but fundamental rights and often a precondition to the enjoyment of civil or political human rights.
"In many European countries, the state of income inequalities is shocking and leads to a marginalisation of certain categories of the population. All recent elections have shown that it is the socially excluded who participate the least in the votes. Socio-economic inclusion and income inequalities are therefore a major challenge," he added.
Wiemer Salverda, a labour market specialist from Amsterdam University, confirmed that there has been a general increase of income inequalities of households and warned that after the crisis, these inequalities might increase even more rapidly. He also stressed that the current strong competition from higher income households for low-skill jobs leads to a self-reinforcing labour-market and income inequality. "Working time is also rapidly growing into a prime dimension of labour-market inequality," he added. In conclusion, he warned against a future of growing inequality and stressed the need to defend benefits and public services.
The President of the European Committee of Social Rights, Giuseppe Palmisano, recalled the main social rights challenges Europe was currently confronted with, such as the continued existence of child labour and the remuneration of young workers. "The access to and the quality and quantity of social services for families, as well as migrant workers' discrimination on the labour market and the right to family reunion must also be urgently addressed" he said stressing the important role of national parliaments in the implementation and monitoring of social rights.
Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, senior economist at the International Labour Organization (ILO), focused on the role of social rights in preparing the grounds for a more equal distribution of income as a means to prevent the further erosion of the middle class across Europe. "There is a strong correlation between the level of inequality and the size of the core middle class," he said. "With a view to addressing inequalities, the middle income groups must become a target group of labour market policies," he added stressing the importance of social dialogue, protection, taxation and education in this respect.
Coen van der Veer, a member of the Executive Committee of the Dutch trade union FNV addressing labour migration and its impact on labour standards concluded that from his trade union's point of view the main challenges were to find the right balance between flexible employment for migrant and posted workers and more permanent forms of employment, and to make people understand that migrant workers could be complementary to the local workforce, if illegal contractual situations were successfully prevented (e.g. false self-employment).