Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in The European Union

ituc-1Report for the WTO General Council Review (Geneva, 6 and 8 may 2011)


All 27 European Union member states have ratified all eight ILO core labour Conventions. 

In certain areas further measures are needed to comply with the commitments the European Union accepted through WTO Ministerial Declarations at Singapore (1996), Geneva (1998) and Doha (2001), and in the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and 2008 Social Justice Declaration. 

In general, trade union rights are respected in law and practice in the EU. However, a number of violations of trade union rights take place, in particular in some newer member countries. The most important shortcomings concern  lack of protection against anti-union discrimination and limitations on the right to strike. After rulings by the European Court of Justice representing a major challenge to trade union rights in the EU with regard to the extent to which the exercise of fundamental social rights can be reconciled with the internal market, the ILO Committee of Experts strongly criticised the negative consequences of the ECJ cases when in March 2010 it considered the BALPA case, observing with serious concern the practical limitations on the effective exercise of the right to strike.

National laws provide for equal pay and equal treatment in employment and prohibit discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnicity and other grounds. In practice, however, economic discrimination against women in the labour market is still pronounced. A gender pay gap exists in all Member States, women are disproportionately concentrated in part-time and lower paid jobs and they are frequently absent from senior management positions. In Southern and Eastern Europe in particular discrimination, inter alia in employment, occurs against the Roma and other minorities. In much of Europe Muslims are discriminated against in employment, including in hiring practices. 

Economic exploitation of children occurs in the European Union but in most of the countries it is not a widespread problem. Most child labour occurs in informal economic activities, agriculture and family-run businesses. Many victims of child labour, particularly its worst forms, are Roma or children from North Africa and Asia. Generally, but not always, child labour laws are better enforced in the northern countries of the EU. 

The ILO CEACR has continued to criticise several EU countries for the practice of obliging prisoners to work for private enterprises in conditions which cannot be assimilated to a free employment relationship, i.e. without their consent, at levels below national minimum wages and without social security coverage.  This breaches provisions of Convention No. 29.  In virtually all EU countries, trafficking in women for the purpose of  forced prostitution is a problem, as is forced labour by trafficked people and begging by children. All governments take measures to address the problem; however, several countries need to intensify their efforts. 

The EU supports respect for core labour standards in several aspects of its own trading system including its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), under which developing countries that respect the core ILO standards are eligible for improved access to the European market.  

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