Rise in zero-hours contracts highlights need for urgent action
Labour MEPs in Strasbourg this week (7-10 March) again called for urgent action to tackle zero-hours contracts, following the latest figures showing a rise in their usage in the UK. 801,000 people in the UK were employed on a zero-hours contract between October-December 2015, up from 697,000 for the same period in 2014 - a 15 per cent rise.
I and my fellow Labour MEPs have long been calling for action on zero-hours contracts, and leading the European Parliament's calls for action. The European Commission needs to act now to tackle the problems of insecure employment, youth unemployment and poor wages, and urgently come up with policies. This is what the EU should be doing, working with national governments to strengthen workers' rights and clamp down on these unfair practices.
Far too many employers are using exploitative zero-hour contracts without a thought of the negative consequences they have on people's lives. If you work regular hours, you should have a regular contract - everyone deserves to be in quality employment and employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected in the workplace.
All workers deserve adequate wages, social security protection and decent workplace conditions. Labour MEPs will continue to fight for quality jobs with job security in the UK and across the EU.
Standing up to China for a fair playing field for our industries
In February I called on the European Commission and the UK government to use China's rise to market economy status (MES) by the end of 2016 as an opportunity to pressure the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to demand Beijing plays fair and stops uncompetitive practices like the dumping of steel, which is crushing Britain's steel industry. The Commission has had 15 years to address this problem. We are running out of time and we must see real engagement from the Commission to reassure European industry and workers that the EU will be properly equipped to deal with global overcapacity and dumping on our market after the end of this year.
We cannot allow China to solve its overcapacity by dumping on the European market causing devastating effects on industrial communities across Britain. The EU has the ability to protect our economy against this unfair trade. It's not protectionist to want adequate protection from unfair competition - we urgently need updated trade defence instruments to ensure this. It is outrageous that the UK government is blocking any strengthening of current EU trade defence instruments, and is even contemplating giving China a permanent permit to dump.
Commission presents new proposal on posted workers
During this week’s Strasbourg Plenary (7-10 March) the European Parliament debated new proposed and revised rules for posted workers – workers who are employed in one Member State and temporarily sent to work in another.
The Commission’s proposed revision was for posted workers to be legally entitled to the same pay as local host country workers, rather than only to the host country's minimum wage. There is concern that this can create wage differences between posted and local workers and potentially lead to unfair competition between companies. The Commission also proposed that workers posted for longer than two years should be deemed to have been integrated into the host labour market, so as to prevent abuses such as employing them under less favourable social conditions.
Labour MEPs broadly welcomed the Commission's proposals for pay equality but called for more to be done to close loopholes and create a truly fair system. While the proposals are welcome they don't go far enough, and work will be needed to strengthen them when the plans come before MEPs. Labour MEPs believe posted workers should benefit from the protection of the collective agreements that are actually applied in the host country. The Commission failed to ensure posted workers would benefit from collective bargaining.
Present legislation dates from 1996 and since then the EU labour market has changed with the ratio of the lowest to highest national minimum wages in member states increasing from 1:3 in 1996 to 1:10 today. If equal pay for equal work is to mean anything, it means people receiving the same rates of pay regardless of where they're from, and irrespective of whether they're temporary or not - we cannot allow companies to get away with exploiting workers and undercutting wages.
Trade in Services agreement must protect public services and protect workers’ rights
I and my fellow Labour MEPs voted in February for the exemption of public services, protection of workers' rights and greater transparency and data protection in the EU Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
The European Parliament was voting on a resolution setting out a series of demands from MEPs to the European Commission, which is negotiating TiSA on behalf of EU national governments. These include the full exclusion of all public services; strong safeguards for workers; a new binding clause to guarantee data privacy; and greater transparency.
TiSA is currently being negotiated between 23 World Trade Organisation (WTO) parties, including the EU. It is intended as a tool to reform the rules surrounding global trade in services, which have been in force since 1995 through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
The trade in services is a significant and growing part of the EU economy and the current rules are grossly outdated. Creating a level playing field and opening global markets to European service providers is long overdue and crucial to the protection and promotion of jobs in the European Union.
In no EU country are jobs so linked to the services sector as in the UK - more than half the UK workforce are employed in this field. The Trade in Services Agreement is an opportunity to boost our economy and to update trade rules for the benefit of all. Positive reform must ensure the protection of public services, workers’ rights and the ability of governments’ right to regulate.
Unemployment to remain virtually static
The European Commission, in its winter 2016 economic forecast, has predicted that the moderate growth and unemployment rate we have been experiencing will improve only “at a snail’s pace”. The Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, Pierre Moscovici acknowledged that more work is needed to increase investment and called for richer member states to increase public investment.
On that point, Veronica Nilsson, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), agreed: “Richer countries must invest more to drive growth and create jobs - we are with Commissioner Moscovici on that one.
“We do however have further concerns” added Ms Nilsson, “the Commissioner has said nothing about much needed wage increases, or the rise in low paid insecure work, despite his expectation that private consumption would be the main driver of growth next year.
“Moderate growth is obviously better than no growth, but it is deeply disappointing and worrying that unemployment is expected to fall at only such a slow pace.”