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Procedure : 2006/2240(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0068/2007

Texts tabled :

A6-0068/2007

Debates :

PV 23/05/2007 - 4
CRE 23/05/2007 - 4

Votes :

PV 23/05/2007 - 5.11
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2007)0206

Debates
Wednesday, 23 May 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition

4. Decent work (debate)
PV
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  President. The next item is the report (A6-0068/2007) by Marie Panayotopoulous-Cassiotou, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on ‘promoting decent work for all’ (2006/2240(INI)).

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (EL) Madam President, allow me to wait a moment while the Commissioner takes his seat and please do not count the time.

The concept of decent work as a set of rules and conditions which safeguard respect for workers as human beings was introduced by the International Labour Organisation in 2000 and developed into an internationally pursued objective with the recommendations of the UN Summit of Heads of State or Government in September 2005, within the framework of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

In July 2006, the High-Level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council adopted a declaration underscoring the priority of managing to achieve productive, full-time employment and decent work for all.

The concept conveyed in the Latin-based adjective ‘decent’ has the sense of bestowal, of condescension, so that there is decorum. The Greek word for dignity emphasises the need to bestow value. However, the German word for dignity completely conveys the objective of the global endeavour, combining as it does the word for dignity and the word for man.

The Commission communication in May 2006 on promoting decent work for all lays the foundations for the European Union to make a structured contribution to the application of all the objectives of the integrated view of human work under conditions of freedom, equality, security and human dignity.

The four basic pillars of the concept of decent work are, as we know, the creation of jobs for productive work with freedom of choice, guaranteed rights, extensive social protection, the safeguarding of conditions of health and safety, the promotion of social dialogue and the peaceful resolution of differences, with a horizontal dimension of respect for the equality of men and women.

Five International Labour Organisation conventions safeguard fundamental employment rights: trade union freedom, the promotion of collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour and equal pay for men and women. We hope that the other International Labour Organisation conventions awaiting ratification will be signed and put into practice.

Following the Council decision in December 2006, the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs welcomes the Commission’s objectives in its report. The objectives must be to:

- achieve social and economic progress and ensure that it is spread fairly for the benefit of all;

- strengthen entrepreneurship by adjusting expenditure to the changing phases of the business cycle;

- design active labour market policies as a component of long-term economic policy;

- strengthen the institutional capacity for the participation of the social partners and the development of social dialogue;

- strengthen the employability of all grades of workers, especially of women, youth and the elderly, with renewed education systems;

- consolidate lifelong learning so that everyone can benefit from progress in science, technology and communications and adjust it to the enhanced demand for qualifications and skills.

Certainly there is no one-size-fits-all model of social policies and regulations on the labour market. The European Union is proud because, apart from far-reaching efforts by Member States to ratify the ILO international conventions, it is the economic power that presents common characteristics of social awareness throughout its length and breadth. The European social model aims for productivity and economic performance for the benefit of all, a high standard of social benefits, the safeguarding of conditions of health and safety, the provision of training, education, and retraining of all ages and all categories of workers and social dialogue with equal opportunities for all.

The European Employment Strategy, the social protection and social integration strategies, the national reform programmes, the revised Lisbon Strategy on development and employment which retains and improves the acquis communautaire and the European strategy on sustainable development are the roadmap of the European Union for achieving the objectives of decent work.

Decent work is also a matter of governance. The implementation of effective policies focused on decent work requires accountable institutions, a political commitment to sound management of the state and a vibrant and organised civil society.

As far as the European Union is concerned, I hope that it will find a way to combine flexibility of the market and guaranteed security for workers. However, economic globalisation, the globalisation of markets, technologies, information and labour, is a phenomenon which there are plans to speed up by strengthening economic multi-polarity.

China is proving to be at the top of the league, along with India and other powers. At the same time, a gap appears to be opening between the rich and the poor, even in developed and industrialised countries. It is time for the European Union to show the planet its values.

In this report, the European Parliament is strengthening the Commission’s intention to integrate decent work into its foreign policies, in cooperation with the institutions of the UN, national and regional organisations, the social partners and other segments of civil society.

The Commission and the Member States are being called upon to coordinate decent work more effectively in external cooperation and trade policy programmes and to help to implement the national programmes of the ILO on decent work.

My thanks to the three committees for their opinions and to everyone who helped in the presentation of this report.

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Madam President, honourable Members, I should like to thank Mrs Panayatopoulos-Cassiotou for her report. It was worked on by several parliamentary groups, and is clearly an excellent report. I should also like to point out that decent work is a worldwide initiative drawn up by the International Labour Organisation, and thanks to staunch support from the EU it has become a genuinely worldwide initiative, accepted by an ever greater number of countries.

The Council has given its backing to the concept of decent work, and it was also addressed recently at a meeting of work and social affairs ministers in the context of the G8. The Commission completely accepts Parliament’s view that the basic elements of decent work – namely, social support, social cohesion, dignified work and the opportunity for free trade-union activities – should be implemented across all international contacts, whether at a bilateral or a multilateral level, and also when setting up individual projects with third countries. This is very much in keeping with the Commission’s social agenda and with the main guidelines set out in the above-mentioned communication.

Although the project is gaining increasing support, it is abundantly clear that much remains to be done. I feel that the priority is to ensure that all ILO conventions are ratified in the EU. In this regard, the Commission is making use of the resources at its disposal and at present we are heavily involved in the ratification moves and social dialogue connected with the new conventions for seafarers.

Honourable Members, the decent work initiative clearly has strong ethical foundations. Furthermore, the initiative will enable us to formulate principles regarding globalisation, so that we may enjoy its benefits while minimising its drawbacks. It is therefore a process which is very much alive and the Commission will, in every instance, make the most of the opportunities it brings.

 
  
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  Feleknas Uca (GUE/NGL), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Development. – (DE) Madam President, half the world’s workers have an income of less than two dollars per day, and half the world’s population enjoys no social security protection whatever; two million people a year die in accidents at work or from work-related illnesses, and over 160 million workers become ill as a consequence of hazards in the workplace.

The number officially registered as unemployed are only the tip of the iceberg. The poor cannot afford to be idle; many of them work for hours on end under often intolerable conditions in order to scrape at least some sort of earnings together. The European Union and its Member States should do everything in their power to do justice across the board to the promotion of work with dignity as part of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. What is needed is a fair and innovative fiscal policy, and I am thinking here in terms of the taxation of such things as financial and currency transactions. Major companies that repeatedly violate human rights and the rights of workers must be brought to the point where they comply with the criteria for proper and decent work, and this should be done by means of sanctions, such as – and this would be appropriate – their being excluded from application for public procurement tenders and from export credit guarantees issued by international financial institutions. A new European development and trade policy is needed if people are to be enabled to economically …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Harlem Désir (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on International Trade. – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by thanking our rapporteur, Mrs Panayatopoulos-Cassiotou, for the spirit of cooperation that she has shown and for the quality of her work.

Since the 2005 United Nations Summit, the promotion of decent work has been recognised as an objective of the entire international community. With its communication, the European Commission has begun to consider the issues at stake in this matter, not least its international dimension: I am referring to the EU’s external policies, concerning in particular international trade, hence the work of the Committee on International Trade.

I should therefore like to focus on this aspect and express my satisfaction that, through this report, Parliament is taking up several practical proposals that were submitted by my group. These proposals had already been adopted in the opinion of the Committee on International Trade and will make it possible to initiate a new EU policy aimed at promoting social standards at international level.

Firstly, the Union already makes the signing of preferential trade agreements with developing countries conditional on the ratification of the International Labour Organisation conventions. We are now calling for the sanctioning, the suspension of the preferences granted to countries that seriously and systematically violate fundamental labour standards and, more specifically, freedom of association.

Secondly, all future bilateral trade agreements and, in particular, the new free trade agreements, which are due to be negotiated within the context of the global Europe strategy, must include social clauses on respect for decent work.

Thirdly, the multilateral dimension must not be abandoned, because it is the multilateral framework – that of the WTO – which today governs the bulk of trade. However, the Commission communication does not mention it whatsoever.

The debate therefore needs to be re-opened within the WTO. Europe could take a number of initiatives in this regard. Firstly, it could propose the creation of a ‘Trade and decent work’ committee within the WTO, on the model of the ‘Trade and environment’ committee, which has enabled some important progress to be made. Secondly, it could call for the ILO to be granted observer status within the WTO. Thirdly, it could call for the pre-eminence of the decisions taken by the International Labour Organisation to be recognised when the latter decides to call for trade sanctions against countries such as Burma, for example, which is seemingly violating trade union rights.

We have made a number of other practical proposals. I believe that it is in our interest to promote a form of regulated globalisation that ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Philip Bushill-Matthews, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Madam President, the Commissioner has helpfully reminded us of the worldwide initiative on decent work and that it has been recently endorsed by the G8. Indeed, at a UN summit in September 2005 as many as 150 world leaders agreed that the International Labour Organisation concept of decent work should become a central objective of their own national policies. Essentially, of course, this agenda concerns countries where such a concept does not really exist. Within Europe, frameworks providing conditions for decent work are largely in place, though implementation here can always be improved.

The rapporteur has shown not only personal initiative in bringing this report to Parliament, but also that a member of the centre-right political family can not only take the lead on this important agenda but also generate substantial cross-party support.

That said, there were some close votes in committee that changed the overall balance of the report by inserting new points or paragraphs. These we hope to change in the full vote in the House later today, either by deletion or by modification via agreed compromises with other political groups. In promoting the concept of decent work, we should all be on the same side.

Of course, Parliament does not have the powers to instruct Member States on what to do in this area, and rightly so: it is for Member State governments to decide. However, all such governments should surely agree the importance of providing lifelong-learning opportunities, the need to be proactive on increasing women’s participation in the labour market, the need to do so much more to resolve the challenges of reconciling work and family life and, above all, the need to offer help to the developing world.

This is a thoughtful report, which deserves to be widely read.

 
  
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  Stephen Hughes, on behalf of the PSE Group. – Madam President, I should like to thank the rapporteur for an excellent report. The report includes a very long resolution running to 94 paragraphs, but for me its essence is summed up in two paragraphs.

Recital V states that ‘in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the European Union in a socially sustainable way, it is important to improve productivity by promoting decent work and the quality of working life, including health and safety at work, a better balance between flexibility and security in employment, lifelong learning, mutual trust and participation as well as a better conciliation between private/family and working life; combating gender discrimination and all other forms of discrimination’.

Paragraph 6 calls for ‘a better mobilisation of the internal and external policies of the EU on the promotion of the decent work agenda, especially in matters of development, external assistance, enlargement, neighbourhood policy, trade, migration and external bilateral and multilateral relations’.

If these two paragraphs were fully implemented, the EU would have made great strides in promoting the decent work agenda, both here at home and globally.

Other paragraphs of importance to me include paragraphs 46, 48 and 51, which broadly cover the need for European multinational corporations to behave in a socially responsible fashion in their global operations. These build on our earlier work on the subject.

A number of paragraphs set out the need for the EU to use its trade and economic power as levers to promote the decent work agenda globally. For example, paragraph 8 calls for the full and proper implementation of GSP+, in line with the debate we promoted with Commissioner Mandelson on the subject last year.

Finally, I want to highlight paragraph 47. This calls for the development of ‘a label for products that are produced under conditions that respect the principles of decent work and conform to core labour standards, and that specifically exclude any child labour input’. Let us empower European consumers to drive forward the decent work agenda in their daily choices.

 
  
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  Ona Juknevičienė, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (LT) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, firstly I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, on preparing this very important document and thank her for her cooperation in discussing changes and seeking compromises.

Today we are talking about trying to attain decent working conditions for everyone, whether in the Community or beyond its borders.

I fully support the Commission's initiative, because increasing employment and improving working conditions is one of the most important tasks, one that should not be procrastinated. However, since we are talking about decent working conditions for everyone, it is worth taking a look at what our working conditions are here in the Community.

Not long ago our colleague Baroness Sarah Ludford and I spoke in London with some Lithuanians living and working there, and with some representatives of trade unions and employees of the Lithuanian Embassy.

It appears that most of the Lithuanians working in London can only dream about decent working conditions. Temporary employment agencies often break the law, demanding illegal payment for job searches and for preparation of documents. They take passports and do not give them back. Particularly flagrant is the exploitation in the hotel industry, where employers do not pay the minimum wage defined by law. After this visit, Sarah Ludford called the Lithuanians in London the slaves of the twenty-first century.

Commissioner, we have an agency in Dublin which investigates working and living conditions. More than once I have spoken with the head of the agency and requested that an investigation be undertaken. Now I am asking, Commissioner, that with the help of this agency you undertake an investigation concerning the economic, social and psychological exploitation of migrants in the Community and recommend measures to eliminate it.

I support the rapporteur's position, which is that the Commission should always provide the European Parliament and the Council with all political measures required to stimulate decent working conditions for the Community's people as well as an account of their effectiveness.

 
  
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  Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Madam President, the processes of globalisation taking place in the European Union and the world are attended by tremendous changes in ownership, culture and society.

Varying levels of economic development and living standards have led to migration on a vast scale in the search for work. According to the International Labour Organisation there are some 192 million unemployed people in the world and 86 million migrants, of whom 34 million are in the developing regions of the world.

People who are hungry are prepared to leave their homes and families to take on any work they can find, and this often puts them at the mercy of criminals. The numbers are shocking: according to the ILO, in 2004 alone some 2.54 million people were sold into forced labour, about 43% for sexual purposes.

The question this raises is: why is this happening? Why are so many countries, including some in the European Union, unable to control the problem?

The answer is simple: capital is more important than people, the rich ignore the poor. This means that globalisation and liberalisation favour …

(The President cut off the speaker.)

 
  
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  Sepp Kusstatscher, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Madam President, this report contains a plethora of good ideas and positive suggestions for decent work, and, for that, Mrs Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou deserves our thanks. While demanding these things, though, we should also bear in mind that there are in the EU over 20 million people without work, many of whom are stigmatised and suffer exclusion; nor should it be forgotten that more and more workers, even though they have jobs, do not earn a living wage and that what are termed ‘precarious working conditions’ are used as a means of circumventing labour and tax law, with young people in particular being exploited. While all this is going on, the economy is expanding and the gross domestic product is on the rise. If a fair society without either poverty or exclusion is to be established, a radical paradigm shift is called for, and the best way of going about this is to be found in the idea of an unconditional basic income for all. The Commission would be well-advised to join with the Council in examining this idea in depth.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Madam President, the report by my honourable friend is, generally speaking, satisfactory. In other words, the fact that it promotes the concept of decent work in accordance with the institutional position of the International Labour Organisation is, in my opinion, a good thing.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done as regards the actual concept of decent work and the application of this concept to all the European Union’s foreign policies.

Balancing economic development and social and labour development presents the Union with a unique opportunity today. Consequently, a very detailed evaluation of trends on the labour market is needed, not only at the level of employment, but also of its nature and quality; in other words, decent work.

Finally, as the European Union, we must make provision so that the promotion of gender equality continues within the framework of the policy for decent work through integrated and better-coordinated overall action for non-discrimination and equality.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Madam President, we all want decent work, do we not? Cleaning out a cesspit, out in all weathers, knee deep in mud mending broken gas mains or removing asbestos from the Berlaymont Building is hardly decent work, but somebody has to do it – or do generous rates of pay turn a rotten job into a decent one?

I am intrigued, therefore, by paragraph 27, which talks about establishing a standard definition of forced labour. Forced labour, here, in the EU? Or is that a reference to the exploitation of people illegally trafficked from one country to another? Now that does need cracking down on, and the best way to do that is to restore national borders and carefully check all those seeking to cross them. At the moment, it is open house all the way from the Russian frontier to the Atlantic coast. No wonder we now have people-trafficking on a massive scale and forced labour to follow it.

 
  
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  Cristian Stănescu, în numele grupului ITS. – Consecinţele sărăciei, ale excluziunii sociale, nu numai la nivel european, dar şi la nivel global, sunt devastatoare. Un trai decent în Europa se va baza pe atenţia pe care Uniunea o va da oamenilor care nu au un loc de muncă, acţiune susţinută prin propagarea principiilor sociale şi de politică externă. Desigur, este necesară armonizarea dialogului între instituţii, iar Comisia Europeană are un rol vital în aplicarea legislaţiei şi a responsabilităţilor care-i sunt conferite. Contribuţia organizaţiilor internaţionale, documentele prezentate în preambul de către raportor sunt de mare valoare pentru aprecierea obiectivă a acestui aspect, dar nu şi suficientă, fiindcă trebuie avute în vedere şi firmele private care pot asigura locuri de muncă şi pot oferi premisele creşterii economice şi implicit o viaţă mai bună. Prioritatea raportului dezbătut astăzi la Strasbourg sper să devină şi prioritatea guvernelor naţionale, care trebuie să pună cap la cap piesele acestui puzzle şi să elaboreze strategii socio-economice puternice pentru a se crea locuri de muncă, cu respectarea strictă a drepturilor fundamentale ale cetăţenilor şi cu combaterea încălcării dreptului la muncă. În acest context amintesc hărţuirea, exploatarea şi violenţa la locul de muncă, realităţi menţionate şi în raport şi la care nu trebuie să asistăm fără să dăm o replică pe măsură. Siguranţa şi ocrotirea sănătăţii la locul de muncă sunt alte subiecte propuse atenţiei, deoarece sunt condiţii esenţiale pentru asigurarea unei munci de calitate într-o Europă modernă. Globalizarea, politicile orientate pe principii greşite, delocalizarea masivă a întreprinderilor şi transferarea lor în afara graniţelor Uniunii Europene afectează cel mai mult piaţa de muncă şi relaţiile sociale în contextul strategiei de dezvoltare durabilă. Precaritatea sistemului trebuie stopată prin încurajarea legislaţiilor naţionale în domeniu, reformarea sistemului de învăţământ în zonele rurale şi acordarea unor facilităţi...

 
  
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  Alessandro Battilocchio (NI). – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful to the Commission and to the rapporteur for having decided to tackle such an important issue. I shall not dwell upon the need to ensure that all the countries in the Union and, above all, the new Member States ratify the main agreements on this matter as soon as possible, or on the EU’s duty to eliminate all types of discrimination based on gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation, as well as all types of improper conduct such as the still prevalent phenomenon of harassment, which may interfere with workers’ professional or private lives.

I would like most of all to urge that we stop seeing things through the prism of an economy on an industrial scale grafted onto an eighteenth-century model. We cannot rely for our growth either on our own natural resources or on the availability of labour such as that in China, so we need a real revolution in thinking; we must realise, in fact, that we need to invest in human resources and to train people, offer them security and opportunities for growth. This is the best solution, if not the only one, for promoting the EU’s competitiveness and achieving the Lisbon objectives. If in the new economies such as Brazil or the Asian tigers the challenge of international trade is based on quantity, Europe has a duty and above all the possibility of differentiating itself by focusing on quality, creativity, and its cultural, intellectual and scientific heritage – in other words, on the main elements of our circumstances.

The tertiary sector, whose raw material is people, seen not as bodies but as brains, is now the dominant sector. If, therefore, we give our citizens the possibility of expressing as well as they can their capacities and the skills acquired during years of study, then we will be ready to be a principal actor on the international stage – a role that we are in danger of losing. Economic development must be at the service of human beings, and not the other way round.

 
  
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  José Albino Silva Peneda (PPE-DE).(PT) Madam President, I support the report by Mrs Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, whom I wish to greet and congratulate. The issue of the quality of work is not just about workers’ rights; that would be a reductive view. It is vital that the quality of work be seen as a much broader issue, because, for a start, higher quality in the working environment is one of the most significant factors in increased productivity and, in turn, increased competitiveness.

The quality of work revolves around having the right public policies and the performance of companies in different areas such as access to infrastructure and communication technologies, education, vocational training, lifelong learning, health and safety at work and access to the labour market. From the companies’ point of view, the quality of work revolves around leadership, career prospects and the organisation of work. I should also like to mention a further reason why we need to focus on this subject. For Europe to carry out much needed reforms at various levels in order to become more competitive in relation to the rest of the world, there needs to be a change of behaviour and attitude, on the part of both companies and workers.

The greater the trust between the parties, the easier the reforms will be to implement. Moreover, the more intensive the dialogue, the higher the level of trust, and the greater the transparency on issues relating to the processes of restructuring or change. In my view, European political, economic and social agents must, as things stand, make the most of the opportunity to step up social dialogue at both Member State and European level. This issue of the quality of work will also help to realise this big opportunity.

 
  
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  Anne Van Lancker (PSE). – (NL) Commissioner, it is extremely positive that the Commission will be actively supporting the International Labour Organisation’s strategy for decent work.

Decent work is more than simply respecting the ILO’s fundamental working standards, important though they are. It is also about people’s entitlement to viable pay and to social protection, and to their right to organise themselves in trade unions.

At the moment, one and a half billion people in the world do not earn enough to cover their basic needs, even though 90% of all countries in the world have a legal minimum wage; in many cases, though, people working from home, workers on the land or people with precarious contracts do not fall within its scope, or the law is not applied. Social consultation and trade union rights are therefore crucial to guarantee the right to decent work for everyone.

This is why I am particularly pleased about the joint declaration by the European Trade Union Congress and the American trade unions of their shared intention to fight for decent work.

Europe should place decent work at the heart of its foreign policy, so that the benefits of globalisation can be shared more evenly and social dumping in respect of pay- and work-related conditions in more developed economies be avoided. Trade agreements concluded between the European Union and countries such as India or Korea, which are the subject of current negotiation, should support decent work, and trade preferences should be withdrawn if countries systematically violate fundamental social rights.

Europe should also support its partners in the developing countries so that these can prioritise decent work in their national or regional strategy plans and in European partnership agreements.

Not only governments, but also multinationals bear a heavy responsibility with regard to guaranteeing fair wages and working conditions. Multinationals that have head offices in the European Union, but subsidiaries and sub-contractors elsewhere in the world, and that persistently violate those fundamental rights should be blacklisted and excluded from all public tenders in Europe.

It is in this way that Europe can take the lead in international efforts to add a social dimension to globalisation.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin (ALDE). – Madam President, I congratulate the rapporteur on this comprehensive and balanced report. There are a number of statements in this report that have given rise to some debate, but I would pose the question: is there anything in this report that should not apply to a member of my family? And whether members of my family live in Ireland or in Poland or indeed if they are third country nationals, I would want the provisions in this report to apply to them. So, if we really mean to promote decent work for all and not just those who because of their birth, their position in society or education can access decent work, then this report is a major step in the right direction.

As I said, this report is balanced. Just as a member of my family might be seeking work, they might equally be a small entrepreneur, an SME struggling to survive and thereby create decent work. This report promotes business that does not seek to exploit, that does not engage in social dumping and that does not violate core labour standards. I suspect that most of us would like to work for, or indeed manage such companies.

There is constant tension between the demands of the market and the promotion of a just and equitable society. One group of workers, carers – in fact the largest single group of workers in Europe – often falls between two stools. The market does not recognise or reward them as they do not contribute significantly to GDP growth. Yet they are the glue that holds society together. Without this group of workers societal structures as we know them would collapse, and then who would the market serve?

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Decent work, which is rightly promoted by the International Labour Organisation, must include the promotion of workers’ rights in a wide range of areas, namely employment, salaries, contracts, health, hygiene, safety at work, vocational training, promotion, social protection and security, collective contracts, social dialogue and removing discrimination and inequality. Yet one only needs to look at the growth in unstable work, poorly paid work, the millions of accidents at work, poverty among workers, unemployment and fresh attacks on the rights of those who are in work – of which so-called flexicurity is a prime example – to realise the contradictions with which we are dealing and which lead workers to protest and struggle. Indeed, there is to be a general strike in Portugal on 30 May, organised by the CGTP union.

The Commission itself is an example of these contradictions, insofar as it has submitted this communication and yet at the same time has published a draft Green Paper on labour legislation …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM). – Madam President, there is no question that in some countries exploitation of workers is the norm. We rightly criticise this but we buy, wear, eat and drink the products of abusive labour on a daily basis. As long as we do not insist, the abuse goes on.

But decent work is a two-way street. Working conditions must be fair for the worker, but also the worker must perform his or her service in a fair and responsible way. It is only when there is mutual decency and respect in the European workplace that the EU will be competitive and socially sustainable. I would like to congratulate Mrs Panayotopoulos on her report. She has covered all the areas of vulnerability – young workers, mothers, even breastfeeding mothers, part-time and older workers. She even mentions home workers, and I would like to think that this includes the unpaid family carer of children, disabled people and older family members.

 
  
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  Jean-Claude Martinez (ITS).(FR) Madam President, work for all, and decent work at that! But what is it? It is the work of young people, of women, of children, in the United Kingdom or in Portugal; it is the work of migrants, of slaves in diplomatic missions, especially in the Middle East; it is the work of employees in France; it is those who commit suicide at work, at Renault for example; it is the obscene salaries – EUR 1 000 per month for cashiers, builders, workmen – that make it possible precisely to re-form the workforce; and, at the end of a life of exploitation, it is the retirements of shame: EUR 130 for a farm woman’s husband. When it costs EUR 10 to impound a dog, one cannot even impound a retired farm woman!

What are the causes? Well, the causes are the new forms of global capitalism, which is not industrial capitalism, but financial capitalism, in search of a 15% return. In order to obtain such a profit, the capitalism of pension funds, speculative funds, hedge funds, exerts three types of pressure: on salaries, on employees – who use just-in-time methods and who are stressed, hence the suicides – and on the number of employees. Another cause is the immigrant workers from Latin America and Africa to El Ejido in Andalusia, in workshops, in the restaurants of Barcelona, on worksites. It is globalisation, where Chinese workers on 25 cents an hour become the model international worker.

What should we do? Four things: we should wage social battles, we should wage legal battles, at the ILO and the WTO, by showing imagination, not least with deductible customs duties, we should wage political battles and, above all, we should be clear-sighted and call things by their true name – the deregulated market is capitalism and globalisation, and it is also worldwide financial capitalism.

 
  
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  Jan Andersson (PSE). – (SV) I wish to thank not only the rapporteur but also the Commission for a very well-balanced report. I would also thank the Commission for the position it has adopted. The fight for decent work is beginning in the EU. We are concerned here not only with the fight against moonlighting but also with decent working conditions within the EU, with living wages and with opportunities for professional development and for exercising influence in the workplace. The fact is that if we are to be able to make progress with these issues globally, we must ourselves first comply with the principle of decent working conditions at home, and that is not something that we are doing fully. We need also continually to work on the situation in all the EU Member States. In international work we have the International Labour Organisation’s conventions, which constitute a good basis for working on. Trade and open borders are important, and I am a supporter of both. It is also important, however, that we at the same time work to bring about sound environmental and working conditions for people in countries poorer than the EU countries. What is at issue in these countries too is the right to organise and to obtain decent wages and working conditions. What responsibility do the various players have, then? Clearly, the EU has a responsibility as an international player in trade and other contexts. The Member States have a responsibility, but companies, too, have a responsibility, including a social responsibility. Sometimes, conflicts are set up between decent work and opportunities for growth. I believe, however, that the two are linked, as without decent work we shall not obtain long-term sustainable growth.

 
  
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  Georgios Karatzaferis (IND/DEM).(EL) Madam President, there are no indecent jobs or indecent professions. Even the oldest profession in the world is not indecent. However, there are indecent conditions and they are bred by our policy.

When someone is poor and weak, he will take recourse to indecent work. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables was not indecent when he stole the loaf of bread. However, we have given birth to 100 million European Jean Valjeans and the multinational companies exploit this need.

Some people need to understand that, if we do not change policy, if we take the bankers’ word as gospel, we shall have people who end up in indecent work. Mr Trichet doubled interest rates in two years.

When someone on a salary of EUR 800 takes a loan, you can understand that he is unable to pay it off. So he will accept indecent work. We are responsible and we must therefore take a leap forward. After so many years, we are going back to feudalism. In the old days, the liege lord had a reputation. Now he has a bank.

 
  
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  Magda Kósáné Kovács (PSE) . – (HU) Mrs Panayotopoulos’s excellent report speaks for us all. It connects the requirement that ‘we must talk’ with serious, relevant and strategic statements.

Serious, because the report provides a responsible and expert exposé of those social differences which speed up the process of decline. Women figure repeatedly in the text, as do the aged, people living with handicaps, migrants, ethnic minorities, and the low-skilled, because of demographic constraints and those arising from the new labour market.

The report is highly relevant, since a debate was recently launched within the European Union’s institutions concerning labour law reform, social dialogue and measures that strengthen social security. These debates might turn out to cancel each other out, but our decision now could help ensure that they lead in the same direction after all.

And what the report has to say is strategic as well, since its concepts of ‘decent work’ demonstrate what employment security, social security, partnership, rights in the workplace, and the equality of men and women mean or ought to mean. All this is inseparable from the strategy for ending poverty, for eliminating the threat of the poverty trap.

Poverty is a mark of shame on the face of Europe, and therefore the introduction of a minimum wage system in each Member State is unavoidable, although in this area as well, significant differences between the old and new Member States are to be expected. Nonetheless, in the long term this arrangement will mean putting an end to living standards that are beneath human dignity.

 
  
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  Ole Christensen (PSE). – (DA) Madam President, every year there are 270 million industrial accidents. In all, 2.2 million employees per year die as a result of unsafe working environments, and it is estimated that 60 million children around the world are engaged in hard and dangerous work. In the World Trade Organisation, in our trade agreements and in our development aid, there must be more focus on decent work. European consumers must also be mobilised, however. Consumers are willing to fight for employees’ rights. We see this in the growing interest in fair trade products, for which consumers are willing to pay extra if they can be certain that they are produced under decent working conditions.

Consumers, customers, employees and investors should have the opportunity to choose or reject products and suppliers on the basis of whether or not workers have had to risk life and limb in the manufacturing process. A voluntary product label for goods produced in decent working environments would give consumers the information that is necessary if decent working conditions are to remain in the interests of both consumers and companies. An EU product label developed around the fundamental workers’ rights laid down by the International Labour Organisation could make a difference.

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Honourable Members, it would be very difficult, in the time available to me, to make an adequate contribution to this debate. I should like therefore to try to focus only on the most important point. It is clear from the debate that Parliament is strongly in favour of promoting the concept of decent work for all in such a way that it forms part of a strategy formulated by the Commission. Secondly, this is a global project which applies under all conditions and in all countries, regardless of their level of development, and that naturally includes the Member States of the EU.

It was also emphasised that even in the EU, standards are not always upheld in some situations, particularly when it comes to illegal work. The Commission has therefore adopted a proposal to crack down on migrants working illegally, and is planning to draw up a more cohesive strategy on combating undeclared work.

I should also like to say that in the first half of 2008, the Commission will publicise a monitoring report on Union initiatives concerning decent work. The promotion of this global concept is something that brings together many areas, and this comes across very clearly in the proposed report. I should like once again to praise the report for its high quality and to thank the rapporteur.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 12 noon.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Tokia Saïfi (PPE-DE), in writing. – (FR) At a time when globalisation is the source of unrest and social injustice, it is necessary to emphasise the European strategies that increase the social dimension of globalisation. The implementation of the decent work agenda is part of these strategies. Decent work can in fact help the fight against poverty and social exclusion because it enables the advantages of globalisation to be optimised by reducing the disadvantages.

True, the liberalisation of trade must contribute to the objectives of growth, full employment and a reduction in poverty, but, above all, it must be based on the promotion of decent work for all. Furthermore, if it is to be a constant factor in the EU’s external policies, then the promotion of decent work must be the premise and condition of the EU’s trade relations with third countries. In this connection, it is relevant to point out a mechanism guaranteeing the promotion of decent work, namely the system of generalised preferences. The SPG+ is in fact a vital lever that is able to encourage efforts in favour of sustainable development, good governance and the promotion of fundamental social rights.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
Last updated: 3 August 2007Legal notice