26 April 2017 marks the day that the European Commission issued its recommendation on the principles and rights that are essential for a fair, well-functioning labour market and welfare system to address the needs of today’s Europe. The Commission Recommendation establishing the European Pillar of Social Rights, applicable to all Member States and made up of 20 key principles, serves merely as a high level guide for better working and living conditions in Europe.

The Recommendation comes at a time when some of the Member States are still visibly suffering high unemployment rates in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008. Europe’s response to the stunted growth that has plagued the globe is to create a vehicle to induce investment in education, promote innovation and increase efficiency. The urgent priority of Europe is youth unemployment and poverty risk which is the Recommendation’s prevalent theme throughout.

So how does the Recommendation aim to achieve its goals? It is generally up to the individual Member States to deliver on the principles put forward. Broadly speaking, the Recommendation is split into three chapters comprising of:

- Equal opportunities and access to the labour market;

- Fair working conditions; and

- Social protection and inclusion.

Together with the proposal on the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Commission presented a series of legislative and non-legislative initiatives related to family and working life, information for workers, access to social protection and working time.

Work-life balance for parents and carers

This initiative raises the bar by implementing new and improving existing standards for paternal, paternity and carer’s leave. The intention is to increase the possibilities for men to take up parental and caring responsibilities in the family unit benefitting children and promoting women’s participation in the labour market and reducing inequality.

Access to social protection

With the advent of the gig-economy and new working arrangements, the Commission is seeking ways to strike the balance between new job opportunities (in particular for the young) and at the same time restrict precarious work and inequality. The idea is to provide as many people as possible with social security cover by allowing citizens to build up rights against contributions.

Written Statement Directive

The directive gives employees starting a new job the right to be informed on the essential grounds of employment. A consultation is being launched with social partners on proposed revisions to reflect labour market changes. While some Member States (including Malta) may already have such measures in place, the majority of workers in the EU either do not receive any information on the working conditions at all or receive it late.

Working Time Directive

This is a non-legislative initiative which has come about due to the growing case law on the matter. The Commission is to provide guidance on interpretation on the various aspects of the directive providing clarity on content and application.

What does the future hold? - The Commission will be engaging with Member States and stakeholders to ensure the efficient implementation of the accompanying measures. What this will imply with respect to Malta will of course depend on the extent that the directives and other measures are adopted but these will be made clearer over time.