Sustainable social protection schemes, based on solidarity and equality, will have a major impact on Europe's future, says the EESC
Access to social protection is a key element in a fairer society, yet for many people on Europe's labour market and in particular for those in new forms of work or for the self-employed, that access is becoming increasingly inadequate, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) warned in its opinion on the European Commission's proposal for a Recommendation on access to social protection.
In the opinion, presented at its September plenary session, the EESC urged authorities at all levels, as well as civil society and social partners in the European Union, to work together towards restoring social sustainability "with a broader objective of creating a level playing field in the social area, where everyone under the same rules and at comparable conditions can enjoy access to social protection".
In the EESC's view, everybody should have the right to a decent life, social protection and protection against risks, including healthcare, and the right to a dignified retirement in old age. This coverage should be guaranteed to all workers, regardless of their personal conditions, backgrounds, or their employment relationship and labour market status, in line with the principles contained in the European Pillar of Social Rights.
"The EU must encourage equality among European citizens and we need to talk about social sustainability of our societies", the rapporteur for the opinion, Giulia Barbucci, told the plenary. "Our task is to reconfirm the European social model and to rebuild trust in the EU and thus combat the proliferation of Euroscepticism. This will have an effect on the future of the EU".
The EESC called on the Member States to explore ways of funding social security systems in a way which not only ensures the sustainability of these systems, but also makes them more inclusive so as to guarantee access to those systems for people in new labour relationships and for the self-employed, as well as for all vulnerable groups.
It recommended that Member States should draw up specific national action plans to report on the gaps in the implementation of the Recommendation identified by the Commission's impact assessment accompanying it.
Civil society and social partners would have an active role to play when it comes to governance of social protection at national level, Ms Barbucci said, adding it has been already shown they could contribute immensely to closing the gaps in access to social protection. The Commission should also be able to find ways of helping Member States to address shortcomings in their social security systems.
Social rights should also be transferable, and workers who transfer between different jobs and different labour market employment relationships should be able to keep them. Alongside access to social protection, it must be ensured that the coverage itself is also effective.
The EESC said it believed that initiatives that were to be undertaken under the Recommendation should provide "adequate benefits and provisions". "This should include safety nets for those who are not able to reach minimum entitlement thresholds, in particular for those who are unable to work and their families", Ms Barbucci maintained.
Since age and gender are among the main reasons for exclusion of people from social protection schemes, the EESC said these two factors should be given special attention when defining actions falling under the scope of the Recommendation.
The Recommendation on social protection is one of the initiatives undertaken by the Commission under the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPRS).
Under the Recommendation, every worker – including those in atypical forms of work and the self-employed – should be granted concrete and effective access to social protection systems. The Recommendation also aims at helping Member States to close gaps in access to social protection for all people at work.