A Europe of inequalities is unsustainable, said Gabriele Bischoff, President of the Workers' Group, opening the extraordinary meeting of the EESC's Workers' Group in Sofia.
Citizens are frustrated because progress in wage convergence is severely lacking, fuelling nationalists' and populists' propaganda. The recent agreement on posted workers is an important step, but still a lot needs to be done to improve the living and working conditions of citizens.
The discussion focused among others on the burning issue of discrimination of workers from Eastern Europe as compared to their colleagues from Western Europe, who work at the same place for the same employer. Economic and social convergence was most important for many citizens in Eastern European countries and the only way to fight social dumping. Therefore, the solution was to create jobs and policies that reflect the value of the work done. Plamen Dimitrov, President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, called for an EU Alliance for the convergence of wages.
Equal pay for equal work is a 100 year old principle. We must go back to this to alleviate social imbalances, he added. Dimitar Manolov, President of the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour, stressed that the greatest issue for Bulgaria was income: minimum wage had been raised by 12%, but that was tantamount to a salary rise of only 25 EUR per month. In an open market pay for qualified workers could not be achieved under such conditions.
As the European Pillar of Social Rights was a fundamental element and had a decisive role to play in achieving greater social and economic cohesion, an important part of the meeting was dedicated to its implementation and financing on the basis of a comprehensive, pioneering study carried out by the European Social Observatory. The study highlights the need for adequate funding at EU level within the multi-annual financial framework and at Member State level (more budgetary scope for social investments under the “golden rule”). It also calls for a roadmap for implementation and binding social targets, for example within the European Semester process. Sebastiano Sabato, co-author of the study, stressed that awareness raising campaigns were needed at national level and that trade unions had a strong role to play here by using the pillar to make governments accountable.
The importance of the integration of the Western Balkans was also highlighted during the meeting. Ekaterina Zaharieva, Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and minister of Foreign Affairs, underlined that the Bulgarian Presidency had given great impetus to this process.
At the end of the Presidency we hope that EU leaders will show the same courage as the one demonstrated by the Balkan countries to support negotiations. Those countries have accomplished a lot over the years and integration has been a major drive for security and prosperity. This vision is shared now by the majority of the citizens of the Balkan countries, she said.