The European Commission has launched consultations with partners on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Action plan is in progress and will be presented publicly soon. The Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation was also invited to share its position. On 22 September, a national consultative meeting was arranged by the Representation of the European Commission in Lithuania.
As you know, the European Parliament, the Council, and the Commission proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2017. The Pillar sets out 20 key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets, structured around three chapters:
Main areas to focus
Precariousness in the labour market
Inequalities in the labour market
Mitigation of negative climate change factors at workplaces
Need to enhance social dialogue and collective bargaining
The Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation notes that one of the main current challenges in Lithuania is a significant skills mismatch in the labour market. (In other words, this means that education and training are not providing the skills demanded in the labour market, or that the economy does not create jobs that correspond to the skills of individuals).
We are facing two great transitions, which will reshape our economies but, unfortunately, many workers – even in clearly vulnerable sectors – do not get needed training for a smooth adaptation. Currently, upskilling and reskilling are crucial or we will see rising unemployment and a higher burden to the social protection system (and even a sharper negative impact on the worsening demographic situation Lithuania). On another hand, the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation agrees that this time is a good opportunity to redirect our economy to a more competitive, high-added-value industry and concentrate on quality jobs creation in more innovative sectors.
The second challenge is precarious work (non-standard or temporary employment that may be poorly paid, insecure, unprotected). The situation was problematic before the pandemic and now it got worse. Not everywhere decent wages and decent working conditions are a reality (in comparison, Lithuania has a high percentage of in-work poverty). The growing popularity of new forms of work is a concern. It is clear, they are hollowing out existing labour standards. For example, we see that e.platform workers have no or little guarantees, there is a lot of bogus „self-employment“ (workers are asked/ pressured to change their status to even if they work as a traditional employee further).
Inequalities in the labour market are persistent
are persistent, a more inclusive labour market should be supported. All of that hinders our economic potential. Better integration of so-called vulnerable groups could also help to solve demographic challenges. This challenges not only people with disabilities (for example, by avoiding to adapt workplaces to their specific needs). We see that discriminatory aspects persist at many levels, for example, age: people around 50 already facing difficulties to be employed but, on another hand, the youth is also vulnerable (the growth of unemployment among young people was very rapid during the pandemic – last to come, first to go). The situation of the gender wage-gap is still far from satisfactory (worth to mention, that a high level of “grey economy” in Lithuania distorts the official statistics) and the gender pension-gap is an even greater concern. The Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation strongly supports the pay transparency directive: LPSK believes could be an important step for remedying many inequalities related to remuneration.
The Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation stresses a need to step up at mitigating negative climate change consequences, especially, at workplaces. For a long time, any problems related to climate change were not high on our political agenda or on our public domain. That has to change: we are already facing extreme temperatures and unusual – more severe – meteorological events but a significant part of workplaces and work practices are not adapted to these clear changes.
Additionally, it should be matched with higher financing for the health system, firefighters, and other crucial public services (it is extremely insufficient for many years already), responsible for tackling negative consequences. The strengthening of national health systems is also important in the context of current and future pandemics.
All these goals could be achieved and be sustainable through social dialogue and collective bargaining. Unfortunately, both of them still have to be improved in Lithuania, especially, in the private sector. The crucial right to organize is often neglected. The bargaining is often stalled, promises to arrange further meetings with trade unions delayed. Those workers, who want to organize and are active in trade unions members often are pressured. LPSK stresses, that if we hope to deliver on the European Pillar of the Social Rights successfully, commitments of all sides must be strengthened. Of course, there are some positive changes: for example, recently, a court decided to punish a manager of one big industry company (by the criminal law), who pressured an employee due to her membership in a company’s trade union. The manager had to pay 2500 euros fine. It was the first time and, hopefully, that will work as an instrument of deterrence to others.
What do we ask?
The Action plan has to include these aspects:
upskilling and reskilling of workers (closely related to strategic long-term goals) have to be supported and financed, especially, in those regions/ sectors, which will be influenced by these transitions the most;
adequate social protection for workers, who are between jobs, and additional training should become a norm; „nobody should be left behind“: digital and green transitions have to be socially just to be sustainable;
concrete measures to create quality and well-paid jobs in high-added value, „green“ sectors must be laid down;
all decisions, impacting lives of workers, should be achieved through quality social dialogue; collective bargaining should be supported and strengthened.
LPSK supports the idea that only those companies, which are committed upholding international labour standards and have collective agreements, which are not evading paying taxes, should be allowed to take part in public procurements or get public financing.
The role of trade unions
Trade unions and their mission, goals, initiatives, everyday actions resonate with the most – if not all – principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. One of our strengths is that trade unions have members in many different areas and sectors. The network is useful in finding out priorities in different places and advocating for common values. For example, there are tripartite regional councils, which have the potential to become a useful platform for constructive developments on local level. Also, the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation is a member of the European and International Trade Union Confederations – that is useful for sharing good practices: representatives work closely with matters of the European Semester, on the Sustainable Development Goals („Time for 8 campaign”) and other political issues.
The social dialogue on the European level is well-developed but at other levels (national, local, sectoral), even if social partners take part in different committees or working groups, analyze even strategic decisions, most of this kind of work leads only to an advisory role (i. e. final decisions are taken by politicians, even if they contradict findings of those groups). That the reason, why in some cases, the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation suspended its participation in some working groups and committees – there is a small chance to have an impact (plus if later trade unions raise doubts or against some provisions/ decisions, etc., there is an „argument“ that representatives of trade unions were involved in the decision making, consulted on particular aspects earlier – even if that involvement is merely a formality).
In this context, it is also important to mention that while working in different working groups or committees often there is given a ridiculously small amount of time to analyze extensive documents and give input. Speed is still more important than quality and in strategic decisions, it may lead to big risks and negative impact, the trade-off should be taken into account more often.