Employers in social services gathered together in the European Parliament to present and discuss with MEPs the Common Declaration on the Contribution of Social Services to Europe

On 21st March 2017, major Employers in Social Services from 6 European Union Member States (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France Germany, and Spain)  launched a Common Declaration on the Contribution of Social Services to Europe at a hearing in the European Parliament, co-hosted by MEP Heinz B. Becker (EPP, AT) and MEP Jean-Paul Denanot (S&D, FR) on 21st March 2017.

Heinz K. Becker, opened the public hearing by stressing the key role of social services in Europe, the significant size of the sector and recalled the anticipated increasing demand for social services in the future. He spoke of the necessity to reach collective agreements and clear political commitments to the benefit of a social Europe. He noted that social dialogue in the sector in Austria was very successful.

MEP Jean-Paul Denanot presented the Intergroup on Common Goods and Public Services. As President, his role is to promote the debate on Services of General Interest (SGI) in Europe. SGIs contribute to the maintenance of solidarity within our territories and between generations. “Achieving a social dialogue at European level, the aim of which is to seek and create a framework for both professionals and, above all, for the protection of citizens, would considerably strengthen this sector”, he said.

The event was chaired by Laura Jones, Secretary General of EPR, who thanked the MEPs for their support and strong messages, introduced the project, purpose of the meeting and the common declaration that would be further addressed by the panellists.

Panelists representing employers identified the main challenges and opportunities for the social services sector in their respective countries, including the competition with the for-profit sector, digitalisation of the sector, lack of diversity of workers in social services (i.e gender), quality of working conditions and better work-life balance. They highlighted the necessity to find common solutions to these common challenges through European Social Dialogue (ESD), and that ESD structures for social services would be an important factor in to support social cohesion, economic growth and create jobs. Panellists also spoke of the potential of ESD to bring actions that could reduce Euroscepticism.

From a stakeholder’s perspective, Mr Luk Zelderloo, Secretary General of EASPD, noted that ESD is a sign of maturity and a feature of democracy. As well as the potential of sectoral agreement it is also important for the social sector to have the influence it that deserves at EU level.

MEP Kadenbach (S&D, AT) spoke of the fact that solutions to certain issues can only be found at EU level, and highlighted the significance of the EU funding programmes.

The European federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) also attended the meeting and confirmed the strong cooperation with PESSIS III partnership to continue to facilitate this process in order to support the creation of social dialogue structures at European level for the sector.  Ms. Heather Wakefield from Unison highlighted a study from the UK that showed the that investing 2% of GDP in social services would double the number of jobs in the sector.

Becker MEP highlighted the importance of calling for the prevention of cherry picking of services, that the Commission should give positive guidance to the member states through the European Semester process that supports social services and that there should be obligatory bench learning on social issues. Both himself and MEP Kadenbach committed to support the development of ESD, potentially though a recommendation in the ECON committee.

Laura Jones concluded the meeting by thanking all the participants for their rich contributions and by stating that the next steps for the partners would be to convince the key decision makers.

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