Labour mobility, work-life balance & gender equality: CESI speaks to MEP Jutta Steinruck

Since becoming an MEP 6 years ago, Jutta Steinruck has placed fair employment at the centre of her work. CESI met with her to speak about her views on EU social and employment policy. This interview continues the ‘CESI speaks to …’-series on insights into EU employment and social affairs hot topics.

Labour mobility, work-life balance & gender equality: CESI speaks to MEP Jutta Steinruck

As a German member of the S&D group, Jutta Steinruck has been an MEP in 2009. After the European elections in 2014, she was elected S&D group coordinator in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL). 

More than one year has passed since the European elections in spring 2014. As the S&D coordinator in the EMPL Committee, how do you judge the European Commission’s employment and social policy and to what extent can you see a difference between the work of the Juncker Commission and that of the last Barroso Commission?

I am very disappointed. The European Commission and especially President Juncker promised a lot in the field of employment and social policy. In his first speech in front of the European Parliament he said that he wanted to achieve a “Social Triple A”-rating for Europe. Ever since, I am waiting for him to deliver. The mobility package that has been announced for the beginning of December has been postponed. In this package the review of the Posting of Workers directives was foreseen. Thousands of workers still suffer from the loopholes in the directive and companies are trying to bypass social rights through this directive. We have the problems right know – postponement is the worst option.

Therefore I am very sceptic when it comes to the announced Social Pillar for Europe. Until now I feel the Commission is just good in making announcements.

During the summer months the European Commission announced a new initiative on work-life balance, having withdrawn its maternity leave directive proposal just before. What is your view on the withdrawal of the maternity leave directive proposal and the successor initiative on work-life balance?

It is not right to withdraw a file when one of the EU’s two co-legislators – the European Parliament – has already come to a position and shown a willingness to compromise. But this is at it is and the new initiative on work-live balance takes into account a few new aspects. But to make it very clear: Maternity leave is something very special. It is about the protection of the mother before, during and after giving birth. We need to make sure that this is not forgotten in the new initiative.

For December 9 the Commission had announced a long-awaited and much-discussed package of proposals on fair labour mobility, but postponed it. How do you assess this postponement and what prospects do you see, in this context, for effective action on fair(er) labour mobility and equal rights for posted workers in the EU?

As I have said before: We are facing the problems right now. We need a good initiative on that as soon as possible. Europe must put an end to social dumping and ensure the principle of equal pay for equal work at the same workplace irrespective of the labour contract or the type of worker. These are crucial aspects for combining social protection, fair competition and fair mobility in Europe. To this end the legal framework for the cross-border movement of workers must be significantly improved, to ensure the freedom of movement while safeguarding wages, an effective financing of social security schemes, social standards, occupational health and safety as well as collective bargaining and the autonomy of social partners in the host countries. There is also the question of the possible increase of posted workers from third countries due to the framework of the TiSA agreement which includes the provision of services offered by companies from third countries. It would actually be in the interest of all Member States that the Posting of Workers Directive is revised to cover these workers as well.

The current EU gender equality strategy expires at the end of this year but so far the Commission has refused to adopt a communication on a post-2015 EU gender equality strategy. Instead, it came up with a staff working document, which does not have the same standing as a communication. In your opinion, is a staff working document sufficient to address existing and remaining gender inequalities or would a renewed communication be a better instrument?

A staff working document is not the right instrument. Gender equality is one of the core values of the European Union. Still we are facing a lot of problems. And these problems are not new but have been existing for years now. Just to mention a few: The gender pay gap is not decreasing and women on board level are in the majority of the Member States more an exception than the rule.

This autumn, you have been draftsperson for the EMPL on the own-initiative report ‘Towards a digital single market act’. What are the impacts of the digital revolution on working lives and employment and how do the EU institutions and trade unions need to respond?

When we are talking about the digital revolution we see a digitalisation-driven trend towards more flexible working practices, which also gives rise to unstable forms of employment. I admit that there are also advantages regarding more flexible working arrangements, but we have to ensure that current standards as regards social security, minimum wages, worker participation and occupational health and safety are maintained. In addition, the social partners must update collective agreements accordingly so that existing protection standards in the workplace can also be maintained in the digital world of work.

CESI represents numerous trade unions from the public sector. Many of their members have faced restructuring and staff and budget costs. At the same time, many of them are more than ever working beyond their actual capacities. This is not least because the needs of the incoming migrants have to be adequately met. What do you think about this development? 

The integration of migrants into our society and into the labour market is one of the major challenges we are facing in the coming years. We need to solve this not only fast but cautiously. I know how hard people in the public sector and all the volunteers are working. And I very much appreciate the extra work they are doing. More and well trained staff is absolutely necessary.

CESI thanks Ms Steinruck for the interview. For previous editions of the ‘CESI speaks to …’-series, please consult CESI’s website press section. Picture: © Jutta Steinruck