Covid-19: Europe again before a painful crossroad

Employment and Social Affairs

Europe is again before a painful crossroad, forced to take dramatic choices between health and economy.  Almost each European Union member State is facing again this difficult situation, with the longly announced “second wave” definitely arrived in our continent.

“Our hospitals and health workers are again under pressure. That is why many leaders have announced lockdown and restrictions. In such hard times, cohesion and solidarity matter more than ever. We call on all Europeans to take care of themselves and of each other”, said Charles Michel, President of the European Council, during a video conference with Eu leaders on 29th October.

Thus again as last spring the crossroad: on the one hand there is the terrible impact on national States health systems, already overloaded with Covid-19 patients despite an entire summer to plan some response to the “second wave”; on the other hand there is the terrible impact that the emergency restrictions, announced by almost every Member country, have on economy and namely on entrepreneurs.

Of course this is an epochal crisis and emergency responses are part of it, but it should be highlighted that there is an high cost that too often is paid by the little entrepreneurs or by young people already in difficult situations. More or less all the EU Member States are deciding or will decide in these days’ painful measures, in some case even a new lockdown, in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Together with this there are the huge efforts, also financially speaking, to find a vaccine against Covid-19. And EU leaders highlighted four main areas in which cooperation on vaccines should be developed: fair distribution to member states; criteria to determine priority groups; logistical challenges and bottlenecks; communication on vaccines.

Contextually Member States must face the economic impact of the new restrictions, giving money to most affected people through economic compensation. EU leaders emphasised that implementing the recovery package without further delay is crucial and expressed their hope that it would be possible to decide on the implementation of the July 2020 package in the noticeably short term.  “It is a very important measure to limit damage to our economies,” said President Michel.

But apart from this, there is a dramatic need to think on long term measures both on health and on economic side.  As regard the economic long term measures, it could be highlighted that the Commission proposed on 28th October an EU Directive to ensure that the workers in the Union are protected by adequate minimum wages allowing for a decent living wherever they work.

This is a structural problem affecting many young around the EU. The current crisis has particularly hit sectors with a higher share of low-wage workers such as cleaning, retail, health and long-term care and residential care. Ensuring a decent living for workers and reducing in-work poverty is not only important during the crisis but also essential for a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.  “Today’s proposal for adequate minimum wages is an important signal that also in crisis times, the dignity of work must be sacred. We have seen that for too many people, work no longer pays. Workers should have access to adequate minimum wages and a decent standard of living”, said President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, stressed that “almost 10% of workers in the EU are living in poverty” and that “this has to change”. “People who have a job should not be struggling to make ends meet. Minimum wages have to play catch up with other wages which have seen growth in recent decades, leaving minimum wages lagging behind. Collective bargaining should be the gold standard across all Member States. Ensuring adequate minimum wages is written in black and white in Principle 6 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which all Member States have endorsed, so we are counting on their continued commitment”, he said.

Minimum wages exist in all EU Member States. While 21 countries have statutory minimum wages, in 6 Member States (Denmark, Italy, Cyprus, Austria, Finland and Sweden) minimum wage protection is provided exclusively by collective agreements. In most of the Member States, workers are affected by insufficient adequacy or gaps in the coverage of minimum wage protection. Thus, the proposed Directive creates a framework to improve the adequacy of minimum wages and for access of workers to minimum wage protection in the EU.

Related Articles

Back to Top