Launch of the European Sunday Alliance!
The debate over working in Sundays is back in the news headlines. The European Sunday Alliance held its grand launch day on 20 June 2011 in Brussels at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
Distinguished experts from several EU Member States travelled to Brussels for this event to help raise awareness of the “unique value” of this free time for all citizens in the European Union. There were also some MEPs to grace the occasion with their presence. After many long months of planning, the task for the day was substantial: telling the whole of Europe about the importance of Sunday as a day of rest and of the right to decent working hours. In the morning the European Sunday Alliance’s founding statement was signed by 65 bodies ranging from national Sunday alliances and trade union movements to civil society organisations and religious communities.
An Alliance like the European currency: “Unity in diversity”
“We need time for the collective rituals of society, not just for everyday business like shopping,” declared Luca Jahier, president of the EESC’s Group III, as he opened the conference. “The strength of the Alliance lies in its diversity,” said Fabrice Warneck (Uni Europa) when introducing the European Sunday Alliance. Throughout the day one expert after another expounded the benefits of Sunday as a day of rest.
The programme started with Professor Dr Friedhelm Nachreiner’s presentation of the Deloitte Study, the research commissioned by the European Commission into the evolution of working time organisation. The professor demonstrated convincingly that working on Sunday has harmful effects on individuals that affect their health and safety, and also upset the work- and home-life balance for working people. In support of these arguments several notable scientific studies and confirmed European research results were cited. He ended by saying “Working on Sundays cannot be compensated or made up for by overtime hours or rest days during the week.”
The Churches added their opinions and so did COMECE, co-organiser of the event. Rev. Patrick R Schnabel, pastor of the Evangelical Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) and moderator of the morning discussions, argued in favour of free Sundays as “a huge plus value for every sector and [people in] all situations in life.”
After lunch, Dr Jill Ebrey of the University of Chester explained the importance of the weekend in the historical context of the United Kingdom. At the end of her contribution, she stressed “the weekend remains the time when everybody is free to do whatever they choose.”
In a round table discussion, various national Sunday alliances each had their opportunity to speak, as also did the trade union and civil society organisations (representing families and sports). Maciej Ptaszynki, representing the Polish Chamber of Commerce, a founding declaration signatory, also stated that from the economic point of view “hiring staff willing to work on Sundays involves extra costs because of wage increases and awarding bonuses.”
Special attention paid to voluntary work
“Volunteering is the best example we have of active citizenship,” said Pavel Trantina, chairman of the ECSC’s permanent working group for the European Year of Volunteering 2011. In fact, volunteering involves a wide spectrum of the population and touches every sector (from sport to health). After explaining the importance of volunteering, including its economic and social benefits, Mr Trantina highlighted the link between volunteering and free time. Stephan Dietzen, (EU Office of the European Olympic Committee) added that “volunteering is the cornerstone of sport!”
The event was brought to a close with everyone giving their views on the future of the European Alliance, and a call to action was launched. Actually the European Sunday Alliance does have a political decision-making role in the framework of the European Commission’s revision of the 2003/88/EC Directive. “The Commission has a duty to draw up a proposal to support keeping Sunday free,” declared George Dassis, president of Group II of the EESC.
On another note, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the introduction of the Citizen’s Initiative, the Alliance should really be mobilising yet more organisations in its efforts to make European institutions aware of its aim to keep Sunday safe as the day of rest in the European Union. Fabrice Warneck summed up by saying “With the strength of its diversity, the Alliance should make the most of this political opportunity!”
Translated from the original French