Magazine ed*
ed* Nr. 03/2022

Right to adequate social protection

The massive change in the world of work has not only had an impact on the occupational safety and health but also on social security in general. As labour markets develop and change, social protection systems also need to adapt.

ed* Nr. 03/2022 – Chapter 5

The EPSR words in its Principle 12 that all employed persons, regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship, but also self-employed, have the right to adequate social protection. Just one and a half years after its proclamation, the European Commission has brought this principle to life by proposing a legally non-binding recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed. Following intense negotiations, the Council of the European Union agreed on 8 November 2019 on a Council ­Recommendation to encourage Member States to ensure adequate social protection for all employed persons.1 This is intended to close the gaps that exist in some Member States. For even today, many self-employed do not have sufficient protection as they are not or only insufficiently covered by the social security systems.

Even today, many self-employed  do not have sufficient protection. 


The EPSR has provided numerous other impulses, for example with regard to new forms of work and changes in work organisation due to digitisation.

This is especially true for people with low income earned from self-employment or atypical employment, such as seasonal work or mini-jobs. The same can apply to forms of gainful employment on the borderline between self-employed and workers. The situation in the Member States is very different. Germany, for example, is the only EU country where the self-employed have no compulsory pension insurance. In contrast, in Hungary and Romania, for example, temporary or casual workers are not entitled to sickness benefits and in Romania they are not entitled to unemployment benefits, benefits following an occupational accident or disease and maternity benefits. However, there are also differences in the actual coverage. While in Germany, Finland and Austria more than 50 per cent of the unemployed receive unemployment benefits or unemployment assistance, this figure is only just over 20 per cent in Sweden and even less than 20 per cent in Hungary, Italy and Poland.2 Therefore, specific solutions to problems can only be developed by the Member States themselves for their own social security systems. However, the recommendation relies on a common European understanding in order to take necessary social policy measures.

With the EPSR, the European Commission has also justified its aim to improve the employment relations of platform workers and presented a package of measures on platform employment (Principle 5 “Secure and adaptable employment” and 12 “Social protection”). Platform employment is a relatively new form of cross-­border work and often escapes national regulation. Therefore, a common framework should be created with Europe-wide regulations for access to social protection and the labour rights of platform workers. It also aims to create legal certainty for digital labour platforms and platform workers, as it is often very difficult to determine employment status.3 This should not only strengthen the rights of platform workers, but also benefit digital labour platforms. This is because the aim is to counteract legal fragmentation into a multitude of different national legal provisions and court rulings in order to increase the attractiveness for digital labour platforms and the innovative strength of the European Single Market as a whole. This dual objective reflects the framework of the EPSR. It is important that the Member States have sufficient room for manoeuvre in this respect. Deepening the European Union requires closer social and employment policy cooperation at European level.


In the area of health (Principle 16 “Healthcare”), the EPSR anchors the right to timely, high-quality and affordable healthcare and curative treatment. Notwithstanding the primary responsibility of Member States for their health systems, the EU holds some reins here on its own. With its direct responsibility for medical devices and medicinal products, it can create a framework to meet the requirement formulated in the EPSR. It has succeeded in doing this, for example, with the Medical Device Regulations, which are designed to ensure that medical devices that come onto the market in Europe are soundly tested for quality and function properly.

In the upcoming revision of Pharmaceutical Act, the European Commission has a responsibility to help ensure that medicines remain affordable and can be marketed throughout the EU by revising the legal requirements. It has instruments to do so, and Principle 16 obliges it to use them. For example, on an appropriate limitation of market exclusivity rights for new pharmaceuticals to support generic and biosimilar competition. Or through improved transparency regulations that make the pricing of the pharmaceutical industry comprehensible and strengthen the negotiating position of the Member States and health insurance in benefit assessment and cost reimbursement.

It is also important that the European Commission and Member States have learned lessons from the pandemic. With its legislative package on the European Health Union and the establishment of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Agency (HERA), the first steps have been taken to better prepare for future health threats and to better protect the health of EU citizens.

To improve healthcare, the European Commission launched another major project in May 2022. The European Health Data Space (EHDS) is intended to provide patients with electronic access to their health data and to enable them to use this data across borders for the purpose of treatment. It is also about unlocking health data assets across the EU and using them for public good purposes, such as better research into diseases and development of therapies.4

The EPSR is also proving to be a driver for constructively addressing the challenges posed by Europe’s ageing societies. The European Long-Term Care Strategy5 published by the European Commission takes up Principle 18 of the EPSR (“Access to Long-Term Care”) with the aim of helping to improve access and quality of care in Member States. The increasingly ageing society will significantly increase the need for care services in the coming decades. In its care strategy, the European Commission has therefore called on Member States to invest in the health and care sector workforce and to improve their working conditions and access to training.

Principle 9 “Work-life balance” of the EPSR is also reflected in the care strategy. The strategy envisages the need for action to achieve a better balance between care professions and families. In particular, the role of women, who predominantly work in the care sector and in informal care, is to be specifically strengthened. The planned revision of the so-called Barcelona targets is also intended to improve early childhood care, education and upbringing.