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Workers’ rights in the EU [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Monika Kiss,

Workers rights

Copyright Tribalium. Used under licence from

The 1957 Treaty of Rome gave the European Community competences in certain areas of labour law. Subsequently, the EU has acted to facilitate the free movement of workers, introducing common measures on working conditions, information and consultation of workers, and gender equality at work. In other areas of labour law, the EU has limited power to legislate, but it engages employees and employers in social dialogue.

Working mobility

The Treaty of Rome enabled European citizens to live and work in another Member State. Workers and their families have the right to reside in the host country and to be treated on an equal basis to its citizens. The latest action of the European Commission in this field, the 2015 labour mobility package, aims to support labour mobility and tackle abuse by means of better coordination of social security systems, a targeted revision of the Posting of Workers Directive and an enhanced European Network of Employment Services (EURES). The first two are under discussion in the European Parliament’s Committee of Employment and Social Affairs.

Working time

The Working Time Directive requires EU countries to guarantee specific rights to all workers, such as minimum periods of rest, annual leave, maximum weekly working time and limits to night and shift work. It also sets specific rules on working hours in certain sectors (for instance, offshore work). In 2017, the Commission will review the Working Time Directive. This initiative is linked to the consultation on a European Pillar of Social Rights. The Parliament has repeatedly emphasised the importance of regulating labour standards.

Working conditions

Improving working conditions has been a concern of the EU for a long time. Recent developments include the 2016 Regulation on personal protective equipment, laying down rules for designing and manufacturing personal protective equipment to ensure a high level of protection of human health and safety and to simplify the regulatory environment, as well as the revision of the Written Statement Directive, obliging employers to inform employees of the conditions applicable to their contract or employment relationship, planned for 2017. Parliament has called on the Commission to assess and, if necessary, to take steps at EU level to supervise companies’ activities so as to prevent abuse of any kind with prejudicial effects, particularly on workers.

Equal opportunities

For decades, EU institutions have sought to ensure equal pay for male and female workers, as laid down in Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Equal pay for equal work and work of equal value is one of the key areas for action in the Commission’s strategic engagement for gender equality 2016–2019. Actions to reach this objective include improving implementation of the equal pay principle, along with various ‘soft’ measures, such as strengthening pay transparency. The Parliament is actively working to decrease the persistent gender pay gap and to carry out regular wage-mapping in support of this aim.

Reconciling work and family life

In recent years, European institutions have been working to modernise and adapt the EU’s legal and policy framework to meet the current needs and challenges of working parents (for instance, seeking more balanced participation of fathers in childcare). The package of actions to follow up on the Social Pillar consultation also includes an initiative on work-life balance. The EP considers that achieving genuine work-life balance requires robust, cross-cutting, structural, coherent and comprehensive policies, and points out that reconciliation of professional, private and family life needs to be guaranteed as a fundamental right for all people.

This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.


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