ETUC Resolution on the 60th Anniversary of the Council of Europe European Social Charter and the 25th Anniversary of the Revised European Social Charter

ETUC Secretariat 2019

ETUC Resolution on the 60th Anniversary of the Council of Europe European Social Charter and the 25th Anniversary of the Revised European Social Charter

Adopted at the Executive Committee of 22-23 March 2021

‘Make fundamental trade union, workers’ and social rights more effective by strengthening the European Social Charter’

In 2021, the Council of Europe European Social Charter (ESC) and the Revised European Social Charter (RESC) celebrate respectively their 60th and 25th anniversary. Also in 2021 the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence will celebrate its 10th anniversary. On this occasion and using the momentum of these anniversaries, the ETUC therefore:

  • recalls the importance of the Charter and its further developments in order to achieve a more social Europe;
  • urges Member States to fully abide by their obligations deriving from these social standards and the respective case-law of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) and to ensure that the Charter’s rights are fully respected and effectively implemented;
  • calls on all Members States to fully adhere to all the instruments developed in the framework of the Charter, in particular the RESC and the Collective Complaint Procedure Protocol, as well as to the European Code of Social Security;
  • calls on the EU and its institutions to underline the importance of the EU respecting all the social rights enshrined in the European Social Charter by adhering to both the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the RESC (and collective complaints procedure) and to ensure that in the design, interpretation and implementation of EU legislation, the European Social Charter is duly taken into account;
  • calls on the Council of Europe and its institutions as well as the Member States to improve the effective implementation of the social rights enshrined in the (R)ESC, along the lines adopted at the so-called 2014 Turin Process as well as the recently adopted reports of the Council of Europe Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) on ‘Improving the protection of social rights in Europe’;
  • calls on all Member States to enhance their financial support to the Council of Europe to ensure an effective and continuous functioning of the Council of Europe and its bodies through sufficient human and material means to conduct their missions; in particular the European Committee of Social Rights and the European Court of Human Rights should be safeguarded from withdrawals or reductions in funding;
  • calls on the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention as it may pave the way for further support to the ratification by the EU of the European Social Charter and the European Convention of Human Rights.

The initial Council of Europe European Social Charter (ESC) of 18 October 1961 and the revised European Social Charter (RESC) adopted on 3 May 1996, also known as the ‘Social Constitution of Europe’, have been landmark human rights instruments for the protection and enforcement of fundamental trade union, workers’ and social rights and the improvement of working and living conditions of people in Europe.  

Both Charters also constitute, in particular in times of social, economic or like now pandemic crisis[1], one of the last safeguards to protect fundamental rights of trade unions, workers and citizens, in particular the most vulnerable such as elderly people, children, people with disabilities and migrants.

They have been and still are in many ways “living human and social rights standards” as the initial ESC was for instance the first international standard recognising explicitly the right to strike. But also the RESC proved pivotal as it provides for new rights such as in the employment area the right to protection in cases of (individual) termination of employment, the right to protection against sexual and other forms of harassment in the workplace, the rights of workers with family responsibilities to equal opportunities and equal treatment and rights of workers’ representatives in undertakings and more generally the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion, the right to housing.

In 1995, an Additional Protocol was adopted which provides for a system of collective complaints which entitles social partners as well as specifically accepted (international) non-governmental organisations to lodge complaints for violations of the Charter in States which have ratified this Additional Protocol. This constituted an important (quasi-judicial) avenue, next to the traditional national reporting system, to improve the effective enforcement of the social rights guaranteed by the Charters and which the ETUC and its national affiliates have successfully made used of over time.

Today, 43 of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe have either ratified the original Charter or the revised one. Despite many important high-level processes to increase the ratifications rate of the Charter[2], still four Member States have only signed but not ratified the (revised) ESC and  only 15 Member States are so far bound by the Collective Complaint Procedure Protocol.

Within the EU framework, the ESC and RESC has served as a point of reference in EU primary law, for example in the recitals of the Treaty on the European Union and in the ‘Social policy’ Title of the Treaty (Article 151 TFEU). Most of the fundamental social rights enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU)[3] and the European Pillar of Social Rights[4] are based on the relevant articles of the Charter.

Furthermore, both the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recognise the importance of the Charters when interpreting EU legislation or the European Convention on Human Rights.

Promoting and defending human rights, which include trade union and labour rights, has always been at the core of the ETUC’s priorities and actions. Hence, over time the ETUC has very actively contributed to the development of both Charters and its case law established by the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), amongst others by taking part actively in the supervision procedures, be it the reporting procedure (as privileged observer in the Governmental Committee to the European Social Charter and European Code for Social Security) or the collective complaints procedure.[5] But also in the framework of the Steering Committee of Human Rights (CDDH), in which the ETUC has a permanent observer status since 2014, the ETUC has contributed actively in different domains to ensure that the protection of social rights gets more prominent attention.[6]

In its ETUC Action Programme 2019-2023, adopted at its 14th Statutory Congress in Vienna in May 2019, the ETUC reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to promoting and defending fundamental human, labour and trade union rights, in particular by committing itself to:

  • To enhance the work done within and by the ETUC Fundamental Rights and Litigation Advisory Group, in particular by ensuring increased use of, or when necessary, work to improve, all existing (quasi or extra-) judicial monitoring and enforcement mechanisms within the Council of Europe as well as EU levels and by gaining publicity for best practices;[7]
  • To intensify actions (including campaigns) to press both the EU and Member States amongst others to accede to and ratify the European Convention of Human Rights, (all articles of) the Revised European Social Charter (and the related 1995 Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints) and the European Code of Social Security;[8]
  • To continue to call on the EU institutions, and in particular the European Commission, to ensure that in the design, interpretation and implementation of EU legislation, the European Social Charter (as well as the European Convention of Human Rights) are duly taken into account to avoid EU (case-)law and policies contradicting, restricting or adversely affecting the rights enshrined in the European Social Charter.

In 2021, the ESC and RESC celebrate respectively their 60th and 25th anniversary! On this occasion of and using the momentum of these anniversaries, the ETUC therefore:

2021 is also the year that the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence will celebrate its 10th anniversary; it is also a year marked by the broader call for ratification of the ILO Convention No. 190 to end violence and harassment at work. The ETUC calls on the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention as it may pave the way for further support to the ratification by the EU of the European Social Charter and the European Convention of Human Rights.[10]

In the annex attached the ETUC also provides some more particular demands and suggestions to improve the efficiency of the European Social Charter and its supervision mechanisms in order to ensure a better protection of trade union, workers and social rights in Europe.

 

 


 

[1] See amongst others: the intervention of G. Palmisano (President of the Council of Europe European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) at Hearing on “Overcoming the socio-economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic” of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development Sub-Committee on the European Social Charter (7 October 2020); ECSR Statement of Interpretation on the right to protection of health (Article 11 ESC), 22 April 2020; General introduction to the ECSR Conclusions 2009 on protection of social rights in economic crisis.  

[2] See in particular the so-called ‘Turin Process’ (2014) and the follow-up process to the reports adopted by the Council of Europe Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH) on ‘Improving the protection of social rights in Europe’ ( Volume I and Volume II), including amongst others the establishment in 2020 of a High Level Group of Experts on Social Rights whose task is to propose concrete actions to strengthen the Council of Europe's impact in terms of protection and promotion of social rights in Europe.

[3] See Niklas Bruun, Klaus Lörcher, Isabelle Schömann, Stefan Clauwaert (eds.) (2017) The European Social Charter and the Employment Relation, Oxford: Hart Publishing, p. 552 and Filip Dorssemont, Klaus Lörcher, Stefan Clauwaert, Mélanie Schmitt (eds.) (2019) The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Employment Relation, Oxford: Hart Publishing, p. 712.

[4] See in this sense  amongst others the contribution of the Council of Europe Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law (DGI) to the European Commission consultation on the Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and the report on ‘The European Pillar of Social Rights and the role of the European Social Charter in the EU legal order’ (2019).

[5] Since 1999, the ETUC has filed two collective complaints (together with the relevant national ETUC affiliates of Belgium and Bulgaria and submitted written third-party interventions (called “Observations”) in relation to around 47 collective complaints (out of 197 complaints submitted/admitted so far).

[6] Testimony of this are amongst others the ETUC active input in relation to the  Committee of Ministers Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)2 on the promotion of human rights of older persons, the Committee of Ministers Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)3 on Human Rights and Businesses, the CDDH feasibility study of 2015 on ‘The impact of the economic crisis and austerity measures on human rights in Europe’, and the CDDH-SOC drafting group on the improvement of the protection of social rights. The latter led amongst others to two CDDH reports (Council of Europe CDDH (2019), Improving the protection of social rights in Europe, Volume I and Volume II)and the appointment within the CDDH of a Special Rapporteur on Social Rights. For 2021-2022, the ETUC also envisages to actively contribute to the work of the CDDH drafting groups on “Environment and Human Rights” (CDDH-ENV) and the future CDDH work on “Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights”.

[7] See in this regard also the ETUC Resolution on ‘ETUC human rights legal and strategic litigation – ETUCLEX’, adopted by the ETUC Executive Committee on 28 October 2020.

[8] ETUC Action Programme 2019-2023, § 230.

[9] Council of Europe CDDH (2019), Improving the protection of social rights in Europe, Volume I and Volume II.

[10] See on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention also the ETUC Action Programme 2019-2023, § 259. To note also is that Article 26 ESC provides that all workers have the right to dignity at work (including protection against sexual and moral harassment). Furthermore, the ETUC Executive Committee adopted at its meeting of  22-23 March 2021 a statement on the occasion of the decision of the Turkish Government to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention whereby the ETUC calls on both the EU as well as the member states that have not done so to ratify the Convention.

23.03.2021
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Adopted 22.03.2021