European Court leaves young workers out in the cold

24 July 2017

European Court leaves young workers out in the cold

On 19th July the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that it was acceptable for workers to be shown the door on their 25th birthday, because at that point in the full adult minimum wage kicks in and they become too expensive. So it’s clearly okay for minimum youth wages to be far below the level for older workers, and in the meantime young workers can go to hell. Two weeks ago the relevant committee of the Council of Europe – not an EU body but an older treaty organisation of which virtually all European countries are members – did take account of young people in its surveillance of the application of the European Social Charter, coming to precisely the opposite conclusion. No wonder that the European Commission isn’t in any rush to sign up to the Social Charter, which would after all put them under pressure to meet social norms.

The ECJ pulls no punches in presenting its arguments. The actual case under scrutiny concerned a young Italian who took an underpaid job with ‘flexible’ working conditions. When he reached 25, and the law entitled him to a proper contract, he was instead fired by the employer. According to the relevant legislation, this was possible, but the young man hoped to find redress via the EU. However, the ECJ considered that, as it was so difficult for young people to find work in Italy, a ‘flexible’ job was better than no job at all. What about being shown the door on your 25th birthday? That was permissible too, because for the employer circumstances had at that point changed.

In its own judgment , however, the Council of Europe oversight committee responsible for the European Social Charter expressed a very different view. In relation to Greece, the EU should never have pressured the country to lower the minimum youth wage in order to reduce the budgetary deficit. The Committee also listed a whole series of social rights of which this constituted a violation. So young people now at least have someone on their side.

We know full-well that Brussels is a plaything of big capital and a neoliberal project par excellence. The European Commission wants to polish up its image and wants more power over social policy, and so a social Europe. It’s just that I have absolutely no faith in this sort of rhetoric and won’t have as long as the Commission will not accept the more extensive and demanding social rights contained in the European Social Charter. That’s why for many years I have been calling on Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans to explain why the European Union still hasn’t signed up to the ESC. That would be extremely ‘complicated’ juridically, apparently, so for the moment nothing is being done to bring it about. In my view things are a lot simpler: if there were compulsory social rights and supervision of these rights were performed by an institution over which the Commission has no control, the Commission would not like that at all. It’s fond of words, but not of deeds. But I’m not going to give up. The ECJ’s ruling shows how badly needed is recognition of the European Social Charter by the EU. Timmermans and the European Commission haven’t heard the last of me.

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