More must be done to reduce inequality between men and women
The day after this year’s International Women's Day on 8 March and during the week’s Strasbourg Plenary (9-12 March) the European Parliament adopted by a large majority the annual report on equality between men and women drawn up by Belgian socialist MEP Marc Tarabella. Every year the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee prepares a report to assess progress made. Tarabella reported that although there has been progress since 2009, at the present rate we will not eliminate the gender pay gap before 2084. He also highlighted the need for more attention to be paid to the quality of jobs; more and more women are in insecure or part-time jobs and on temporary contracts.
The report also highlighted that the career glass ceiling is still a reality, especially with regard to quotas for women in listed companies. This has been discussed for 30 years, but to see real change binding measures are necessary. Maternity leave also remains a current a source of discrimination. Adopting an ambitious directive on maternity leave would increase the employment rate of women and the birth rate in Europe. Progress towards equality must also allow women to balance family and professional life. The Maternity Leave Directive was proposed by the European Commission in 2008 and this resolution was passed by the European Parliament in 2010. Unfortunately, the Directive has been blocked by the European Council since 2010 and therefore the Commission have threatened to axe it if there is no further action by May this year.
On average, the gap in earnings between men and women in Europe stands at 16% and shockingly increases to 39% with regards to pensions. Labour MEPs believe that we can try and tackle this injustice by calling for a new modern maternity leave framework to support hard working parents.
Massive support from European social democrats against private tribunals in trade deals
As the co-ordinator for the Socialist and Democratic Group (S&D) in the European Parliament on trade issues I was delighted when earlier this month the group decided to adopt the position I drafted to oppose the inclusion of the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism in trade deals with both the US (TTIP) and Canada (CETA)
The S&D as a group have always been opposed to the ISDS clause which can allow private companies to sue governments if they feel a decision or law impacts on their ability to make profit. We have not had the opportunity to adopt a formal decision on this matter since the last European elections in 2014 and we are responding to the thousands of constituents and the many civil society organisations that have asked us to clarify our position.
The inclusion of the ISDS clause will now be opposed by the Group – the second largest in the European Parliament. The Commission and the centre-right group in the Parliament (EPP) will need our support if they want to see TTIP through. We have now sent a clear message that we can only contemplate support if our conditions are met. One such condition is we do not accept the need to have private tribunals in TTIP. Labour MEPs have been opposed to ISDS as we feel it endangers our public services including the NHS and puts profit ahead of the public interest.
Road safety a priority for EU legislation
At this month’s Strasbourg Plenary session the European Parliament voted in favour of an agreement between Member States that will put an end to cross-border transport using 'Megatrucks' or 'Gigaliners' - which are 25 metres long and can weigh up to 60 tons.
The Directive approved by the European Parliament is much stronger than the weak proposal put forward by the Commission. The attempt to further open up cross-border operations throughout the European Union (EU) was rejected by both Parliament and Council, which means that the text of the current Directive will remain. This is an excellent compromise, given the initial controversy on the issue. The situation will not change for the Scandinavian countries or UK and Ireland; It does not make any sense to adapt all of Europe's roads to accommodate these gigantic trucks, which are a threat both to safety and to the environment."
This Directive not only limits the size and weight of trucks on EU roads but it also promotes combined road-rail or road-ship transport operations for standard 45-foot containers and encourages a review of existing provisions on combined transport. We made sure that there will be no general EU-wide permission for the ' Gigaliners' to circulate.
Secondly, we have set the framework for greener and safer truck cabins. These cabins will not only reduce CO2 emissions through improved aerodynamics, but they will allow for a wider field of vision through the installation of bigger windshields, thus improving safety for drivers.
Victory in Greece opens up ‘opportunity’ and points way out of austerity
Bernadette Segal, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has said that the election and new Government in Greece represents an opportunity for the whole EU.
She said: ‘The situation in Greece represents an opportunity not only for Greece but for all Europe. It is an opportunity to re-evaluate the economic and social policies pursued since the crisis, and to take a new path.
‘Austerity and structural reforms have not solved the problems facing Greece, and other countries. On the contrary they have added new problems, without solving the old ones. Citizens have been made to pay a very high price, but tax collection and corruption have not improved.
‘Only investment at the sort of level proposed by the ETUC – 2% of GDP over a decade – can create the growth and jobs that are so desperately needed in Greece and throughout Europe.
‘The new Greek Government must be given time to put in place new policies. It is vital for Europe’s democracy that the Greek people’s clearly expressed wish for an end to austerity is respected.’