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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Councils

Volume 613: debated on Thursday 21 July 2016

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 16 June 2016 in Luxembourg where Lord Freud, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, represented the UK.

Ministers approved this year’s country specific recommendations (CSRs) under the European semester and endorsed the joint Social Protection Committee and Employment Committee opinion. In discussion all member states welcomed the better focus of the CSRs and argued that fewer but more specific CSRs were helpful. The UK welcomed the more focused approach, the importance given to employment polices as well as the recognition that unemployment can be a structural rather than cyclical problem.

Ministers noted progress reports on amending the carcinogens and mutagens directive and the revision of the posting of workers directive. The Commission (Thyssen) confirmed its intention to respond to the yellow card on the posting of workers directive during July.

Ministers adopted Council conclusions on “Combating Poverty and Social Inclusion: An Integrated Approach”, and on “A New Start for a Strong Social Dialogue” without discussion. Ministers also adopted a package of Council conclusions on gender and LGBTI equality. While there was some disappointment that the text was not stronger from a number of member states, the Council’s adoption of LGBTI conclusions for the first time was particularly welcomed by the UK among others.

The European Commission presented its new skills agenda followed by updates on the outcomes of this year’s UN Commission on the status of women meeting, and on international meetings related to the international dimension of social and employment policies.

The incoming Slovak presidency gave an outline of its work programme. Progress reports on the anti-discrimination directive; the European Accessibility Act; and the social partner agreement on the ILO work in fishing convention were all noted without discussion. Italy also introduced its proposal for a migration compact. Over lunch Ministers discussed social protection for the self-employed.

The informal Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council then met on 14-15 July in Bratislava. Lindsay Fullarton, Deputy Head of EU and International Affairs at the Department for Work and Pensions, represented the UK on the first day. Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, represented the UK on the second day.

The Slovak presidency used the meeting to discuss the social and technological challenges in the future world of work.

The first day involved a plenary session on ageing of populations and the challenges this creates for labour markets and social security systems. The focus of most member state interventions was on migration, demographics and the scope of social protection systems. There was a strong consensus on the need for life-long learning, flexibility in labour markets and recognition of new patterns of work. There were differing views on whether highly skilled migrants were needed and how new ways of working would be covered by labour law, health and safety and social protection.

The second day involved a plenary session on how to address the impact of technological development on the quality of jobs and future skill needs. The UK intervened to highlight the importance of improving digital skills at all levels and the need for policies to address the difficulties of those left behind in society. Baroness Neville Rolfe explained that the UK’s flexible labour market aimed to not exclude these people and ensure their rights regardless of hours worked. Baroness Neville Rolfe’s intervention was echoed and supported by many Ministers who also noted that more needed to be done to ensure that new ways of working had full social, health and safety and labour law protection.