BMAS publishes a companion volume on social policy areas of focus.

Dr. S-W – 08/2020

This July, the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) published a voluminous (350 pages) companion volume for Germany's Council Presidency. It is based on the areas of focus of the presidency on the road to a social Europe. These are, in particular:

  • a European legal framework for appropriate national minimum wages and agreement on basic social security in Europe,  
  • the future of work, including the new digital forms of work and the platform economy,  
  • a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence that takes into account security, liability and data protection aspects, and
  • decent work within global supply chains.

The volume is not so much a presentation of government thinking. Rather, it allows a number of representatives of the Member States, European and international institutions, NGOs, social partners, academia and experts from the field to express their views.

Essentially, European minimum standards for wages and basic security (particularly in the form of minimum income) will initially be given a wide scope. The contributions on the 'Social Platform' and the 'European Minimum Income Network' highlight some of the problems that arise in connection with a European definition of an 'adequate minimum income': base on average (median) income or on an average shopping bill? mandatory participation in activation measures? a requirement not to fall below the national poverty line? relationship to the minimum wage? Professor Miriam Hartlapp examines the options of (probably permanent) solidarity-based financial transfers in favour of poorer Member States to finance the development of the minimum income - on the legal basis of Art. 175 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and in the multi-year financial framework of the European Union (EU) via the ESF+. In this way, some of the previously hesitant Eastern European countries could be convinced.

Sharon Baute (Universities of Amsterdam and Leuven) addresses the delicate question of what citizens think of an increased role for Europe in the social field, specifically: do they think that the level of social benefits and services in their country would tend to increase or decrease if decisions in this area were taken more at EU level? Not surprisingly: few people in Northern and Western Europe assume that things will improve for them but more than two to three times as many assume that things will get worse. In Southern and Eastern Europe it is quite the opposite. Nevertheless, according to another study, the majority of citizens, including those in wealthier countries, would be in favour of the introduction of a European minimum income scheme for unemployed single people – even if this would involve redistribution across national borders.

Representatives of global social and corporate responsibility for global supply chains express their views at length – this is the second major topic of focus. However, it has also became clear that it is in fact not possible for a company to assume responsibility for the entire supply chain. Concerns have been expressed, especially by the business community but good examples have also been presented.

The third subject area concerns the 'new world of work' and here, in particular, the 'digital' working world with the core topics of artificial intelligence, platform economy and further education. In his introductory speech, State Secretary Björn Böhning advocates 'good work in a strong platform economy' among other things. It needs good regulations and sometimes new ones. For example, the question of how to make platforms that work with (solo) self-employed people more accountable is also an issue. According to Böhning, it is precisely these new forms of work for the self-employed that bring gaps in their social security to the forefront of the international debate. This applies not least against the background of the often cross-border dimension of platform work, which raises classic issues such as: which law is applicable and how can the platform worker enforce their rights?

The topic of 'platform' and 'platform work' is the common thread running through a number of contributions. The BMAS' 'Digital Work Society Think Tank' picks up the thread and raises the question of whether specific legal regulations should be created for this group of people because of the need for protection of (usually self-employed) platform workers, which is comparable to that of employees.    

Finally, a fourth area deals with the use of artificial intelligence, both in business practice and in administration. The latter is done using the example of the Austrian Public Employment Service with its employment service (AMS) algorithm. It classifies the unemployed and makes suggestions as to who should be supported with further training measures in specific cases. The algorithm certainly learns from previous cases, which, in the view of Professor Katharina Zweig (TU Kaiserslautern), involves both risks and opportunities: The risk that discrimination of the past will continue but also the chance that it will be detected and countered with targeted measures.