Two new proposals have been presented in the last weeks by the European Commission (EC) which have great impact for families. An EU Directive on minimum wages across the EU is not only meant to reduce in-work poverty but also tackle the gender pay gap. For the first time ever, the EC introduced an EU Strategy for LGBTIQ equality, including a special focus on protecting the rights of rainbow families.
1) Minimum wages across the EU: utopia or reality?
In 2018, 9,4% of people who worked still faced poverty and struggled to make ends meet. To ensure that workers are adequately paid across the EU, the European Commission has now proposed an EU Directive allowing for a decent living wherever they work. This proposal is aligned on the European Pillar of Social Rights which was endorsed by all EU leaders in 2017 and its full implementation part of an Action Plan of the Commission 2019-2024. Principle 6 states “Workers have the right to fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living…In-work poverty shall be prevented. Wages shall be set in a transparent and predictable way…”
Setting adequate minimum wages do not only have a positive social impacts but also bring wider economic benefits as they reduce wage inequality, help sustain domestic demand and strengthen incentives to work. Adequate minimum wages can also help reduce the gender pay gap, since more women than men earn a minimum wage. The proposal also helps protect employers that pay decent wages to workers by ensuring fair competition.
The current COVID-19 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.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said when presenting the new proposal: “We have seen that for too many people, work no longer pays…What we propose today is a framework for minimum wages, in full respect of national traditions and the freedom of social partners.”
Minimum wages exist in all EU Member States. 21 countries have statutory minimum wages and in 6 Member States (Denmark, Italy, Cyprus, Austria, Finland and Sweden) minimum wage protection is provided exclusively by collective agreements. Yet, in the majority of Member States, workers are affected by insufficient adequacy and/or gaps in the coverage of minimum wage protection. In light of this, 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. The Commission sets a framework for minimum standards, but, due to the subsidiary principle, it does not oblige Member States to introduce statutory minimum wages, nor does it set a common minimum wage level.
The right to adequate minimum wages is in Principle 6 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was jointly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council on behalf of all Member States, and the European Commission in Gothenburg in November 2017.
The proposal for a Directive is based on Article 153 (1) (b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) on working conditions. It follows a two-stage consultation of social partners carried out in accordance with Article 154 TFEU.
The Commission’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law.
2) LGBTIQ equality: Having the same (family) rights across the EU
At her State of the Union speech, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen promised “I will not rest when it comes to building a Union of equality…If you are parent in one country, you are parent in every country.” Now the European Commission has presented the first ever EU Strategy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) equality, including a special focus on rainbow families. This EU Strategy addresses the inequalities and challenges affecting LGBTIQ people, setting out a number of targeted actions, including legal and funding measures, for the next 5 years.
While progress in the EU was made towards LGBTIQ equality over the past years, discrimination against LGBTIQ people persists with 43% feeling discriminated. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the situation. For example, different family laws across Member States lead to family ties not being recognised when rainbow families cross the EU’s internal borders. Some rainbow families’ difficulties in having their documents and relationships legally recognised, have led to additional problems during the pandemic, as countries closed their borders. In some cases, people have been blocked at borders and being prevented from joining their families during the confinement. Such situation is a clear violation of the rights given to each EU citizens under the Free Movement Directive.
National legislation in over half the Member States contains provisions applying to rainbow parents. However, and despite existing EU law as interpreted by the Court of Justice, when these families travel or move to other Member States, there is sometimes a risk of children’s link to their LGBTIQ parent(s) being severed, which may have an impact on the children’s rights.
The Commission will push for mutual recognition of family relations in the EU. If one is parent in one country, one is parent in every country. In 2022, the Commission will propose a horizontal legislative initiative to support the mutual recognition of parenthood between Member States, for instance, the recognition in one Member State of the parenthood validly attributed in another Member State.
Protecting rights of rainbow families is part of one of four main pillars the Strategy sets out – building inclusive societies. The other three in the series include tackling discrimination; ensuring safety; and leading the call for LGBTIQ equality around the world. All four pillars come with concrete key actions.
The Strategy presented today is the first Commission strategy in the area of LGBTIQ equality, delivering on President von der Leyen’s commitment to a Union of Equality.
The Strategy builds upon the List of Actions to Advance LGBTI Equality. It links to other European Commission strategic frameworks and strategies, including the recently adopted EU Action Plan against racism 2020-2025, the Victims’ Rights Strategy, and the Gender Equality Strategy.
Member States are encouraged to build on existing best practices and develop their own action plans on LGBTIQ equality. The objective will be to protect better LGBTIQ people against discrimination, to complement action under this strategy with measures to advance LGBTIQ equality in areas of Member State competence.
The European Commission will regularly monitor the implementation of the actions outlined in the Strategy and present a mid-term review in 2023.