Sunday protection in Europe: A binding agreement instead of simply election promises
European Parliament Members and candidates pledge to support a work-free Sunday and decent working conditions in the new legislative period.
In the presence of more than 120 representatives of trade unions, industry associations, national Sunday Alliances, youth organisations and sports associations as well as representatives of the press, the European Sunday Alliance (ESA) presented its new campaign for the 2014 European elections to MEPs at the European Parliament in Brussels on 21 January.
Pledge for a work-free Sunday and decent work
The ESA launched a Pledge for a work-free Sunday and decent work. These two demands are of “paramount importance for citizens and workers throughout Europe and are not necessarily in conflict with economic competitiveness. Especially in the present time of socio-economic crisis, the adoption of legislation extending working hours to late evenings, nights, bank holidays and Sundays has direct consequences for the working conditions of employees and for small and medium sized enterprises. Competitiveness needs innovation, innovation needs creativity and creativity needs recreation!” according to the Alliance.
The campaign, which has been translated into all the official languages of the EU, is directed at Members of the European Parliament and candidates in the upcoming elections. The ESA calls upon them to make a commitment before the elections by signing the Pledge:
- To ensure that all relevant EU-legislation both respects and promotes the protection of a common weekly day of rest for all EU citizens, which shall be in principle on a Sunday, in order to protect workers' health and promote a better balance between family and private life and work;
- To promote EU-legislation guaranteeing sustainable working time patterns based on the principle of decent work benefiting society as well as the economy as a whole.”
MEPs of different political groups signed the Pledge at the launch event on 21 January. Over the next few months, during the run-up to the European elections, the ESA member organisations will present the campaign to their MEPs and candidates in the Member States and collect further signatures. Detailed information about the campaign, including a list of the signatories, is available on the ESA website.
High-level conference at the European Parliament in Brussels
In addition to the official launch of the new campaign, the member organisations and supporting organisations of the ESA came to the European Parliament in Brussels to a conference hosted by the ESA jointly with two MEPs, Evelyn Regner (S&D) and Thomas Mann (EPP) – the European Conference on the Protection of a Work-free Sunday and Decent Work. There they discussed with MEPs the protection of Sunday and of workers, especially against the backdrop of increasing liberalisation of shop opening hours legislation and the working conditions in the Member States, particularly at a time of crisis. Manuela Ulandi, President of Confesercenti from the Italian province of Alessandria, an industry association which represents the interests of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), reported that these enterprises are being particularly hard hit by the liberalisation. They are simply unable to keep up with the bigger players. In Poland, reported Alfred Bujara of the Solidarnosc trade union, more and more flexibility is being demanded of workers in terms of the hours when they are to be available.
Overcoming the crisis in Europe, job creation and economic competitiveness are the biggest challenges that Europe is facing. But competitiveness goes hand in hand with decent working conditions, including the shared weekly day of rest. As summed up by the ESA: “Rest is necessary in order to be creative, innovative and, ultimately, competitive.” We need an “economy at the service of people”, i.e. an economy in which the human being is at the centre, insisted Ludwig Schwarz, Bishop of Linz and spokesperson for the Austrian Sunday Alliance).
Protecting health: Fixed rhythms instead of the treadmill
Another subject at the conference was the balance between work and family and private life. Oscar Vargas of Eurofound presented the results of a study showing that 18% of workers suffer from a poor work-life balance. Susanne Breit-Kessler, Regional Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Munich and Upper Bavaria, highlighted the fact that human beings need stable social relationships for their mental and physical health. Families need a predictable amount of free time they can spend together just as much as single people do. Fixed rhythms, like a work-free Sunday, are indispensable. According to the Bishop, the “burnout” afflicting increasingly larger numbers of people is the result of a “treadmill” from which people are unable to escape. The representatives of sports associations and youth organisations emphasised the value of synchronised free time and a shared free day each week for citizens’ involvement and voluntary activities.
The exchanging of experiences among conference participants from all over Europe showed that in all EU Member States there is a growing trend towards liberalisation – in some cases creeping, in other cases dramatically fast-moving. As Europeans, we should unanimously make it clear that a work-free Sunday and decent working conditions are a fundamental pillar of our European Social and Economic Model. All people in the European Union should have the right to benefit from a work-free Sunday and decent working conditions.
Translated from the original text in German