During this month's Strasbourg Plenary we 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 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 but called for more to be done to close loopholes and create a truly fair system.
Labour MEPs also reiterated calls this week for urgent action to tackle zero-hours contracts, following the latest figures showing a rise in their use. 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. Labour MEPs have long been calling for action on zero-hours contracts, and leading the European Parliament's calls for action.
The European Parliament voted for one of my fellow Labour MEP's report calling for urgent action to ensure EU asylum policies are more gender sensitive. Recommendations included greater safety and security for the most vulnerable refugees; the use of female interviewers, translators and interpreters; childcare during screening and asylum interviews; trauma counselling for women who have experienced gender-based violence; legal assistance for women in reception centres; and an end to the detention of children, pregnant women and rape victims.
Children across Europe will eat and drink more healthily thanks to a vote in the European Parliament on new legislation which will give EU countries the option to freely distribute fruit, vegetables and milk in schools. Labour MEPs backed the EU scheme that will promote healthy eating habits, local food, organic farming and the fight against food waste. There was also a special mention of fairly traded bananas from the developing world. The UK has benefited from the support to milk distribution in schools financed by the scheme but has opted out from distributing other products.
Conservative MEPs opposed the ending of the EU's agreement with tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI). The PMI agreement was designed to tackle the smuggling of counterfeit tobacco products, but while it led to a reduction in the amount of counterfeit Philip Morris products sold, it did not lead to an overall reduction in the trade in illicit tobacco products. Labour MEPs voted to end the agreement, and have called on the European Commission to come up with proposals to deal with the trading of unbranded 'cheap white' cigarettes.
The overuse of antimicrobials (or antibiotics) in intensive animal production is contributing to the resistance to the treatment’s effectiveness and a serious threat to the health of humans and animals alike. Labour MEPs voted on new measures to ban the routine use antibiotics on healthy animals to help fight antimicrobial resistance. Transmissible animal diseases do not stop at borders, we therefore need to find control and surveillance methods beyond the national level. The new measures also include allowing the European Commission to ask EU countries to establish a national database of pets. Across Europe millions of animals, mainly cats and dogs, are bred, traded and transported purely for profit without any consideration for their welfare or for the implications for the spreading of diseases.