The Council of the EU last week agreed a directive with the aim of achieving decent working and living conditions for employees in Europe.

Although the UK is no longer in the EU and, therefore, not within the scope of the new directive scope, it provides a yardstick for unions in this country to measure how far the UK is moving away from what Europe considers to be the minimum protection for its workers.

The directive focuses on three main areas of concern and establishes procedures for addressing them, as follows:

  1. Adequate statutory minimum wages. Member states with statutory minimum wages are requested to put in place a procedural framework to set and update them according to a number of clear criteria. Updates will take place at least every two years or no later than every four years for countries which use an automatic indexation mechanism. However, the directive does not prescribe a specific minimum wage level that member states have to reach.
  2. Promotion of collective bargaining for setting wages. One of the goals of the directive is to increase the number of workers who are covered by collective bargaining on wage setting. To reach that objective, countries should promote the capacity of social partners to engage in collective bargaining. Where the collective bargaining coverage rate is, for instance, below a threshold of 80 per cent, member states should establish an action plan to promote it. The action plan should set out a clear timeline and specific measures to progressively increase the rate of collective bargaining coverage.
  3. Effective access to minimum wage protection. The text stipulates that member states will take measures to enhance the effective access of workers to statutory minimum wage protection, such as controls by labour inspectorates, easily accessible information on minimum wage protection and developing the capability of enforcement authorities to take action against non-compliant employers.

The directive comes into force on the 20th day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union, after which member states have two years to transpose it into national law.

Rachel Ellis, solicitor and employment rights regional manager for Thompsons, commented that: “While positive for our EU neighbours, this directive highlights that the UK is in danger of falling behind Europe in the employment rights landscape. The latest iteration of a Tory government with its de-regulatory and anti-trade union agenda makes any UK commitment to the contents of the directive extremely unlikely and reinforces that the only hope of future advances in the protection of UK workers’ employment rights is the election of a Labour government."