Jul 23 2014

A Holiday Bonus from Europe

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A Holiday Bonus from Europe

A European Union (EU) Court ruling mean employees who earn extra cash for overtime, shifts and commission, but have only received basic pay in their holiday pay packet, will be able to claim back substantial amounts from their employers.

The right to holiday pay originally came from the EU through the 48 Hour Working Time Directive.

Thousands of Scots, and other EU, shift workers could now be entitled to millions of pounds of holiday pay for overtime and nightshift hours they have put in over the years – plus. enhanced holiday pay in the future.

A new European Court of Justice Ruling means employees across the country will be able to claim back substantial amounts of money from their employers.

The new law will benefit anyone who gets extra cash in their normal pay packet for overtime and shift payments, including nightshift and commission – but doesn’t get that cash when they take holidays.

This judgment is the biggest development in employment law since thousands of low-paid women won millions in damages for equal pay – also through the European Court of Justice.

When news of the ruling first emerged, it was thought it would only apply to people in sales jobs who made extra cash from commission. But the EU Court ruling makes it clear that this also applies to the tens of thousands of Scots and EU workers who rely on extra payments from overtime and nightshift work to make ends meet.

The legislation says that overtime and extra shift payment money is also due to workers while they are on holiday and must be backdated by several years.

Backdating may go as far back as 1998, meaning that tens of thousands of people across Scotland could be in line for huge amounts of backdated holiday pay.

For thousands of workers, these so-called “extra” payments are a normal part of their pay packet but when they are on holiday, they receive only their basic pay packet.

A Scottish law firm has said: “That’s completely unfair and the law says that now. This change in the law will mean workers can now afford to take their leave.”

The new European Court ruling on holiday pay is backed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and leading trade unions. All union members should get in touch with their union officials if they want to raise a claim.

However, the Trades Unions are warning people to act quickly to stop employers trying to block claims. You don’t need to be in a union to make a claim. If you’re not in a union, you can still make a claim by contacting specialist employment lawyers.

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Jul 22 2014

European Social Policy – The Next Five Years

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European Social Policy – The Next Five Years

The reasoning behind the creation of the European Union (EU) after the Second World War was to make a future war on the European Continent impossible. The EU or EEC (European Economic Community as it was then called) represented the hope of achieving economic progress between Member States in an atmosphere of peace and friendship.

During the recent financial crisis, many people did not see a Europe as a positive construct, offering them protection and opportunities. Their experience was rather that of unemployment and an uncertain future. In many countries people had to pay a high price to save the Euro. As a result, millions of our continent’s young people in particular became disillusioned with Europe or even rejected it outright.

For many European Parliamentary elections served as a wake-up call. The results showed us just how disillusioned people are with Europe. This disillusionment is something that we as committed Europeans need to fight; showing people that the European project pays. For decades, Europe has been a guarantor of peace and general prosperity. But above all Europe is a social community that unlocks opportunities and creates prospects for the future.

A positive future requires us to focus attention on young people, as it is they who will determine what direction the E U develops in. Do we want a Europe that only pursues a rigorous economic policy? Or do we want a Europe that also invests in future social opportunities? For me, the answer is clear: peace, social progress, prosperity and equal opportunities do not just happen. We have to create the right conditions for these aims. This means, for instance, to invest in good education and training.

This is why we have joined our European partners in committing to a Youth Guarantee Scheme which guarantees that all young people under 25 will be provided with a good-quality offer of a job within four months of them becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This offer should be for a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship. This guarantee now needs to be implemented swiftly.

In this context, it is the countries that have borne the brunt of the crisis that most need to be shown solidarity. The EU Youth Employment Initiative is providing these countries with EUR 6 billion for the next few years, which is an important first step. If we can work together to ensure that this funding reaches people quickly and in a targeted manner, then we can talk about additional compensatory and support measures in Europe.

In the next years we want to achieve more social progress in Europe. The efforts of many Member States to introduce minimum social protection systems or labour market reforms should be encouraged and monitored at the European level. Consolidation requirements and the fight for modern social and education systems that are viable for the future must not be contradictory. Therefore it is also important to maintain the scope for investments and to recognize that it takes time for reforms to become effective. What is important is more coherence and balance in European policy.


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Jul 17 2014

When will the suffering end?

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When will the suffering end?

Time and again we debate the heartbreaking plight of the Palestinians! On Thursday the Group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament debated and condemned the death of civilians, particularly the killing of children, in the Gaza crisis, and called for an immediate end to violence and for the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Socialist &Democrat Vice-President Victor Bostinaru said in a statement “…more than 200 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians – including many children – have been killed in the Gaza Strip and more than 1000 rockets have been fired by Hamas and Palestinian militants into Israel.” Socialist & Democrat Group is the second-largest group in the EP and put out a statement saying: “We welcome today’s temporary humanitarian cease-fire, which may be a first step on this path. We also support all efforts towards a permanent truce, and we regret Hamas’ decision to reject the Egyptian initiative, which was accepted by the Israeli government.”

The S&D Group called for an European peace initiative and plan, and for the use of all the legal, economic and political leverage at the EU’s disposal to find a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Not till then will there be peace in the east.

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Jul 07 2014

Left Right divide could intensify in European Parliament

Published by under Democracy

The French Socialist delegation of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) has called for talks amongst all Left leaning MEPs at the European Parliament. They want to bring the left back onto the main stage in EU politics by ensuring a deep political divide between it and the right.

Opposition to the French government has been on the rise, even within the Socialist Party’s own ranks. This could have repercussions in the European Parliament. The Socialist Party’s delegation of 13 MEPs has called on the Socialist Party’s national bureau in France to rally together the European left.

“We campaigned on the proviso that the party that came top in the European Parliament should provide the President of the European Commission. However, the Council chose Herman Van Rompuy to lead talks on forming a majority, not Jean-Claude Juncker. The European Council should not act like the Congress of Vienna, as it is blocking the institutions,” warned Pervenche Berès, President of France’s Socialist delegation to the European Parliament.

The French Socialist MEPs argue that the process is less transparent than people think. The provisional election of Martin Schulz at the head of the social-democrats in the European Parliament seemed like a sure thing. Yet Junker is placed in charge!

“Our voters struggle to understand how we can negotiate directly with the European Peoples Party (EPP) the conservatives, after having campaigned against neo-liberalism,” said French MEP Guillaume Balas, who believes that the Socialist Party’s main priority should be to form a left-wing majority in the European Parliament.

The Greens (52 MEPs), the far-left (45), and the social democrats (190) combine to make a total of 287 MEPs, which is nowhere near the required absolute majority (376). The European People’s Party (EPP) is isolated, despite having secured 221 seats. The Eurosceptic Finns Party and the Danish People’s Party have joined the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which jeopardises any potential agreement between the two European political groups, whilst the centrist ALDE group is still on the fence.

“We must try to change the direction of Europe! If the left cannot form a majority, it should be a strong opposition force,” said Guillaume Balas.

This goes against the political norm in Strasbourg. In the past, the Socialist Party formed coalitions with the EPP by dividing up Europe’s top jobs, such as the Commissioner portfolios, and by splitting the presidency of the Parliament. This is how Martin Schulz became president for two and a half years.

However, “yesterday’s ways are over. We cannot remain “cosy” in the European Parliament. Especially now that half of those elected are nationalists. They will watch proceedings and reproach us for representing the “UMPs,” said Guillaume Balas.

“They would be right! In order to prevent this, we must promote a real political divide between the right and the left. Even if this means not getting the 376 seat majority in the European Parliament, which is a ridiculous rule,” he added.

Many schools of thought have emerged within the French Socialist Party. Guillaume Balas is Secretary General of Un Monde d’Avance (“A forward moving world”), a club within the Socialist Party. Liem Hoang Ngoc, former French MEP and member of the same club, launched a new group called Socialistes Affligés (“Afflicted Socialists”).

The group is open to all of the French left, including the Greens, the Socialist and the Far-left. Important French politicians like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Pierre Laurent, Eva Joly, Gérard Filoche and Pouria Amirshai have already joined.

“It is not a new idea, but it has become urgent. We have opened our doors to all those who want to fight governmental politics,” said Liem Hoang Ngoc. According to Philippe Marlière, co-founder of the group, the Socialist Party’s stance is not safe when confronted with the rise of the National Front.

The question of what kind of approach is necessary to tackle the far-right has been a dividing force for the French left. In Jean-Christophe Cambadelis’ office, preparations are underway for Manuel Valls’ bid to become France’s next president in 2017.

“We cannot have a right-wing candidate for a left-wing party!” said Liem Hoang Ngoc. That was echoed by Guillaume Balas, who is worried that Marine Le Pen’s ideas will start to run French political life. So it looks as if we are in for ‘interesting times’ at the European Parliament!


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Jul 04 2014

Social Europe Rules

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One of the great benefits of being in the European Union (EU) is that our citizens get the benefit of Social Europe, eg by being in the EU workers in Britain got guaranteed holiday pay for the first time ever, we also benefit from higher health and safety standards.  For the EU to work properly and for our workers to have ‘true’ freedom to travel and work in any Member State these rights must be universal across the EU.

However, the European Committee for Social Rights (ECSR), the main supervisory body for the Council of Europe’s Social Charter, observed in its Annual Report, its so-called Conclusions 2013, that there were at least 180 cases of violation of the Charter concerning health, social security and social protection. In particular Greece, Poland and Romania received a high number of negative conclusions.

These negative conclusions relate to cases of non-conformity with the Charter, and in particular its articles on the right to health and safety at work (article 3), the right to social security (art 12), the right to social and medical assistance (article 13), the right to social services (article 14), the right of the elderly to social protection (article 23) and the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion (article 30).

It is clear that the economic crisis and the austerity measures, imposed upon Member States via the Troika, or under the loan agreements and the European semester, have had an extremely negative impact on human rights and in particular, on social and economic rights. There are also clear signs that in several countries the protection of health and safety at work is being downgraded, notably in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

 “This is again clear proof that the austerity measures pursued in the Member States have a devastating impact on the living and working conditions of all citizens in Europe, in particular, on vulnerable groups like the elderly and migrant workers”, says European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Confederal Secretary Veronica Nilsson.

“The Troika programmes must be urgently revised. All measures to be taken within the context of financial assistance programmes should be screened to ensure that they fully respect fundamental social rights. Moreover, increased involvement and consultation with the Council of Europe and the International Labour Organisation (IL0) in that process are urgently needed.”

That is also what the ETUC called for during the recent European Parliament hearing on the activities of the Troika. (http://etuc.org/press/etuc-report-denounces-takeover-troika). Also EU institutions within the framework of the EU should make sure that they fully respect fundamental social rights – they are for example, bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

We also need all members of the Council of Europe to ratify the latest version of the European Social Charter and to sign up to the complaints’ mechanism which helps to ensure that it is put into practice. Moreover, the EU should take the necessary steps to adhere to these new structures.

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Jul 01 2014

Cheaper roaming charges for holidaymakers

Published by under Environment

This summer Scottish holidaymakers will be able to enjoy posting their holiday snaps on-line, sending texts, and making and receiving calls without the fear of unexpectedly high bills waiting for them on their return. From today (1 July 2014) European data roaming charges have been slashed in half.

And from 2016, once agreement is reached amongst EU governments, roaming charges will be abolished completely.

Labour MEPs have been at the forefront of the drive to cut roaming charges. This is great news ahead of the summer holidays, with people across Europe now able to keep in touch for less.

Now when holidaying in Europe we can share experiences and be the envy of friends back in Scotland when posting holiday pics on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, without the worry of being hit with a huge bill when returning home.

The most people will pay when data roaming within the EU will come down from 37p/MB to 17p/MB.

This is just one of the ways in which Scotland’s consumers are winning a better deal thanks to EU action, highlighting once again why we’re better off in the EU.

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Jan 29 2014

New Approach to Agriculture to Help Scotland’s Farmers

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New Approach to Agriculture to Help Scotland’s Farmers

For the last 50 years the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been the European Union’s (EU) most important and costly common policy. This explains why traditionally it has taken a large part of the EU’s budget, although the percentage has steadily declined over recent years

It is time to change priorities and reform the CAP.  I would like EU food to be produced in a more sustainable way, ensuring EU farming enhances the environment and biodiversity, mitigates climate change and is animal welfare friendly.

It is true that British farmers invest huge amounts of time and effort in delivering quality foods to the highest safety, environmental and animal welfare standards.  I would like to see these high UK standards practiced across the EU, so that our farmers are not put at a competitive disadvantage.

We must raise the game across the field. We can do by working together with other Member States by meshing the rules. This would, I believe, give consumers confidence as well as enjoyment and sustenance from the food they eat. Of course, any change in rules must be accompanied by proper enforcement procedures to ensure a level playing field across the EU.

Unfortunately successive CAP reforms have set a direction of travel away from production linked support towards greater competitiveness and a greater focus on the delivery of public benefits. We want to see this process continued whilst maintaining quality and efficiency.

The CAP must not just work in the interests of farmers, but work in the interests of society at large, meeting the social, economic and specifically environmental concerns facing European rural communities.

As well as this, we need to stick to our commitment of supporting the EU’s responsibilities towards developing countries. All the trade-distorting elements of the CAP, such as export subsidies, which are damaging to Least Developed Countries, must be phased out as soon as possible.

Fairness in supply chains by cutting out so called ‘unfair trading practices’ between retailers and their direct suppliers would be a place to start.

I would like to see relations between farmers, processors and supermarkets improved.  This could include: a tougher approach on supermarkets; a more rigorous enforcement of competition rules; a greater transparency in food prices, etc.

However, it is also important that our local farmers producing food at the beginning of the food chain get the price they deserve and are guaranteed fair and honest prices by the supermarkets that have enormous power and leverage.

The EU already offers protection under the Protected Food Names (PFN) scheme. Under this system a named product is given legal protection against imitation in and outside of the EU and producers benefit from having a raised awareness of their product throughout Europe.

Scotland already has 12 PFNs (Stornoway Black Pudding, Scottish Wild Salmon, Shetland Lamb, Orkney Beef, Orkney Lamb, Scottish Farmed Salmon, Scotch Lamb, Scotch Beef, Arbroath Smokie, Native Shetland Wool, Teviotdale Cheese, Bonchester Cheese).

Ideally I would like to see the registration simplified to encourage more farmers to apply and benefit from the protection.

All of this would amount a new approach to the CAP and help towards a secure future for Scotland’s agriculture




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Dec 09 2013

Anti-Poverty must become a priority once more

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Anti-Poverty must become a priority once more

A shocking new Report has just been released in Brussels which shows.   Over 124 million people in the European Union – or almost a quarter of its entire population – live under the threat of poverty or social exclusion.

Last year, 124.5 million people, or 24.8 percent of Europe’s population were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 24.3 percent in 2011 and 23.7 percent in 2008, according to a document published earlier in the week.

The data included people who were falling within at least one of the three categories: at-risk-of-poverty, severely materially deprived or living in households with very low work intensity.

Bulgaria (49 percent), Romania (42 percent) and Latvia (37 percent) top the list, followed by Greece, Lithuania and Hungary. In comparison, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic (both 15 percent), Finland (17 percent), Sweden and Luxemburg (both 18 percent) can boast the lowest number of people at risk of poverty.

However, even original Member States like Italy are struggling more than ever. Some 18.2 million -Italians are facing poverty – that is the highest number in the European union (EU), even though proportionally one third of the country seems to be doing not too bad.

With the Italian economy going through its longest recession since the World War II, over 12 percent of adults are unemployed, while four out of ten young people don’t have a job. There are no official figures for the homeless.

The report provides existing examples to bring home the human cost: Marco, 46, used to work as a pizza maker – many Italians used to call it ‘the golden skill’ which would always get you work in Rome. However, it did not hold true for Marco, who was sacked one day and has not been hired since. He has been living on the street for about four years now and says he sees little chance of improving his life:

When you live on the street, survival is what takes up most of your time. Simply getting a shower is a challenge. It takes so much time to take care of yourself as a normal person. You reach the end of the day and you’re exhausted and depressed,”  Marco told the report compilers.

With the number of those homeless increasing, more Italians are beginning to turn to charity and humanitarian aid for help.

Pietro Zezza is a volunteer at Caritas Food Emporium in Rome – a place where people can get food for free explained

Two years ago we had about 55 percent of foreigners and 45 percent of Italians coming here,” he said. “Today we have about 65 percent of Italians and 35 percent of foreigners. So the figures are reversing.

Groceries from the shelves of this centre are given in exchange for points allocated to low income families by the global charity network Caritas. Most of the food is near its expiration date, except for food specially labeled aid.

Caritas is raising the alarm, stressing that around one third of all Italian children are now at risk of poverty and are lacking basic essentials such as protein-rich foods, heating and clothes.

If this is happening in Italy it is happening in the other founder EU Member States.  It is time for anti-poverty measure to take a leap up the political agenda!


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Dec 04 2013

Published by under Uncategorized

Proper Apprenticeships

Apprentices in the European Union (EU) are not happy with their lot.  According to a Eurobarometer, published on 26 November, almost six out of ten trainees (59%) did not receive any payment during their last traineeship. Among those who were paid, less than half felt that it was enough to cover basic living cots. Four out of ten trainees did not have a traineeship agreement or written contract with the organisation or company. Close to 25% reported that their working conditions were different to those of regular employees and 20% considered that they did not learn anything useful on a professional level during the course of their traineeship.

To combat this failure the European Commission has recommended that Member States increase the transparency of conditions – such as payment – for traineeships across the EU. After demonstrations of the poor quality of traineeships in the EU, the Commission will submit a proposal for a Council recommendation on a quality framework for traineeships that are not university-related on 4 December.

 The proposal calls for the implementation of a written convention stating the learning objectives, working conditions, rights and obligations of each party and duration of the traineeship that should not exceed six months.

 According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, published on 26 November, almost a third of traineeships were considered to be poor quality in terms of the training content and working conditions. ‘Traineeships have become an important entry point into the labour market for young people [...] they must offer quality learning content and adequate working conditions, and should not be a cheap substitute for regular job’.   

 The proposal for a Council recommendation for apprenticeships aims to provide, by 2014, a framework for apprenticeships where the trainee and traineeship provider decide on a set working week without intervention from a third party, and which includes a learning aspect in order to acquire practical experience before holding down a regular job.

 The non-binding text establishes guidelines to allow trainees to benefit from a high-quality work experience under safe conditions. These common quality standards cover the traineeship agreement, the recognition of a traineeship, the demands for transparency and the participation of social partners.

 The Commission proposes that from now on, all apprenticeships should be based on a written agreement signed beforehand by the trainee and the traineeship provider. This document should state the rights and obligations of each party, including the applicable criteria for working hours, social security (accident, illness).


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Nov 18 2013

United front on unfair CAP Allocation to Scotland

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United front on unfair CAP Allocation to Scotland

Last week the UK Governments Agriculture Minister, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Secretary of State Owen Paterson, announced the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget allocations for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.

Every opposition politician in Scotland plus the National Farmers Union (NFU) was deeply disappointed in that announcement.  It failed to recognise a European requirement on convergence of farm support rates.  One element of the CAP Reform deal agreed during the summer was a desire to see support payment rates across the EU converge towards the EU average of €196 per hectare.  The current Scottish average is closer to €100 per hectare and Scotland is the only region within the UK where average payments are below the EU average.

Thus we all believed there would be an announcement that Scottish farming would be getting the lion’s share of this funding.  Not so!

As part of the convergence process, the UK has received an uplift in its CAP budget allocation.  As low payment rates in Scotland were the main reason for the uplift, NFU Scotland and others – including cross-party support from within the Scottish Parliament – believed Scottish agriculture should have been the main beneficiary of the additional EU money to allow the convergence requirement to be addressed.  That was not reflected in Friday’s budget announcement.

A cross-party letter has been sent to the UK Government calling for about €230 million in extra EU farming subsidies to be allocated to Scotland.

The additional Common Agricultural Policy cash, known as the ‘convergence uplift’, is worth up to €60 million a year – the equivalent of about €230 million over the whole budget period – and the only reason that the UK qualifies for the uplift is because of Scotland’s low payments under the current system.

Addressed to the UK Government’s Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson and copied to Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, the cross-party letter follows a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament where MSPs agreed that the UK’s full uplift should come to Scotland in its entirety.

The letter – signed by Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment; Claire Baker, Rural Affairs Spokesperson for Scottish Labour; Alex Fergusson, Rural Affairs Spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives; and Tavish Scott, Rural Affairs Spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats – states:

“We are writing to express cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament on an issue relating to the imminent decision on the within-UK allocation of the UK’s CAP budget receipts for 2014 to 2020: namely, the need for the UK’s external convergence receipts under CAP Pillar 1 to be allocated to Scotland.

“These receipts only exist because of Scotland’s current position. All other parts of the UK are above the threshold set by the EU for external convergence, and it is only because of Scotland’s extremely low average level of Pillar 1 payments per hectare that the UK as a whole fell below the threshold and qualified for an external convergence uplift. Passing on this uplift to Scotland will also not entail any deductions at all for farming colleagues in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

“The European methodology focussed entirely on per-hectare levels of payment, and the within-UK decision must be on the same basis.

“It is helpful that the European Commission has quantified the uplift precisely, so that it is possible to know exactly how much funding is involved and avoid any risk of cutting into funding which should correctly go to farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We urge you to acknowledge that the only fair outcome on the external convergence funding is for it to come to Scotland, the only part of the UK to be below the EU’s threshold.’

The sooner the UK Government listen to our united front on European Agricultural funding for Scottish farmers the better!

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