Workers' rights are increasingly coming under pressure due to developments such as global competition and the digital revolution. The European Commission is working on plans to improve the situation. On 19 January MEPs adopted a report stating that workers in new type of jobs should be covered by labour laws. We talked to report author Maria João Rodrigues, a Portuguese member of the S&D group, on how to create fair and functioning labour markets and welfare systems.
What do you think of the Commission's plans to move toward a European Pillar of Social Rights?
It's the European Union's most important initiative to update Europe’s social dimension. This means that we need to update social standards for all European citizens in order to cope with the new challenges that are there.
These new challenges are not only global competition and an aging population, but also financial instability and the digital revolution that has significant implications for people’s working conditions.
Although we are now talking about the EU's social dimension, isn't it often seen as rather an economic union with a single market at its core?
That's true, but the time has come for us to change our understanding of the European project. It can no longer be just a project for economic integration. If you want to EU united in dealing with the crisis and all challenges you first have to strengthen social cohesion.
What has the European social model provided us with so far?
The labour market is regulated in a way to increase productivity and that is good not only for companies but also benefits working conditions. In addition everyone can count on welfare systems providing universal access to education, health care and a high level of social protection. Finally you have redistribution of income using taxation.
Traditional welfare systems have come under pressure because of issues such as an aging population, an increase in social inequality, high unemployment rates and an influx of asylum seekers. How is the reform of Europe's social model progressing?
I do recognise that we need to develop a reform process for the different components of the European social model. When it comes to the pension system we need to ensure that all European citizens regardless of how old they are now will have access to a good pension when the time comes. This means that we need to ensure the stability of the pension systems by increasing the employment rate.
Have Europe's welfare systems affected its competitiveness?
When designing the welfare system, it has to be done in such a way that people remain encouraged to look for new jobs. People will change jobs several times in their lifetime so they need to be prepared to update their skills. We need to have education and training systems that provide life-long learning opportunities.
The digital revolution means that jobs are today much more fluid and changing in their content. This is why we have to update labour laws so that new forms of employment are covered. This particularly concerns young people.