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EU Readies Sweeping Employment Reforms

(CN) - While many Americans see the EU as a bastion of workers' rights, the European Commission said Wednesday it's time to "establish a clear set of social rights reflecting the realities of 21st century Europe."

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker first proposed the set of workers' rights in a speech to the European Parliament this past September.

He told lawmakers that while the 19 nations that use the euro implemented many worker protections between 1957 - when the Treaty of Rome planted the seeds that would eventually become the European Union - and the union's official formation in 1993, times and technologies have changed and workers face occupational risks that weren't imagined in the 20th century.

Dubbed "the European pillar of social rights," the commission said Wednesday the document will be a self-standing legal reference that will serve as the framework to screen employment and social performance as work patterns and societies change over time.

The commission also said lawmakers will need to update legislation - particularly in the areas of occupational health and safety - as new risks and realities emerge. And the pillar will require better exchanges of good practices and benchmarking in areas of employment where member states have authority, the commission said.

While the commission acknowledged the EU already has "a solid social acquis," the continent's emergence from the global fiscal meltdown and the current refugee crisis has exposed cracks in its framework of workers' rights that the regulatory arm of the European Union intends to patch in 2016.

"A number of concrete initiatives have already been put forward, such as measures to fight youth unemployment, a recommendation on fighting long-term unemployment and more generally through giving greater prominence to social considerations in the coordination of economic policies," the commission said in a statement. "Work is also underway in 2016 for a fresh start on work-life balance for working parents, a European skills agenda and for a labor-mobility package."

The commission said it intends to present a concrete outline of the pillar in a few weeks, which will be followed by consultations with lawmakers and member-state authorities to refine what actions will be taken to implement the plan.

Among the social rights that will be included in the pillar are rights to minimum pay, representation, protection during probationary periods and from wrongful termination; awareness of rights and access to justice; equal treatment regardless of contract; minimum health and safety rights; working time protections; family leave for both mothers and fathers; lifelong learning and retraining; access to child care and benefits; unemployment and pension benefits; and basic social services, including health care.

The commission said the pillar would only apply to the nations that use the euro - known as the eurozone - but that all 28 EU states will be free to adopt the changes if they desire.

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