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On 13 October, German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Franziska Giffey chaired a virtual meeting of the EU’s employment and social policy ministers.

At the beginning of the employment ministers' discussion, German Labour Minister Hurbertus Heil stressed that it was time to work on a Europe of opportunities and social protection, in particular in light of the current crisis:

Economic strength and social security are two sides of the same coin. Our Presidency of the Council of the European Union has shown that turbulent times can be productive times. We have made progress with “our social Europe.” Today, my fellow EU ministers and I have agreed on a roadmap to improve protections for seasonal workers in the EU. Together we have affirmed that we need to have - and want to establish - a framework for minimum income protection. I am particularly pleased that we were able to agree on the renewal of the Youth Guarantee unanimously and without delay. This sends a strong signal to young people: Instead of unemployment, there will be vocational training, internships, and help with starting a career - everywhere in the EU. We will leave nobody behind. Europe remains a continent of opportunities. 

In their discussion of employee participation, information, transparency and assistance for workers during the crisis, the employment ministers emphasised that a common European approach was helpful since all member states were confronted with similar processes of change, adding that the special situation called for a particularly strong and clear reaction and signal in order to foster economic recovery and especially to safeguard employment. They said that digital and ecological transformation made it necessary to support workers with upskilling and continuing education and training programmes, including with EU funds. Investing in workers’ skills would not just safeguard employment, but would also prepare the European economy for the future. There was agreement that the involvement of employees, their representative organisations and social partners was not just a duty in these times of rapid change, but also led to more tailored and better solutions. 

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil noted:

Short-time work, which is being used as a bridge during the crisis in most countries, should also be used for upskilling and continuing education and training wherever possible. The pandemic has further accelerated structural changes. 

After the debate, EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit thanked the German Presidency for its commitment and cooperation, and he stressed the significance of social dialogue as well as the desire to improve the implementation of rules on information and worker consultation. Moreover, he expressed his satisfaction with the extension of the cooperation between public employment services. He said that especially during the crisis, public employment services were doing an extraordinary job implementing practical upskilling and continuing education and training programmes as well as programmes for the integration of young people. 

At the end of the discussion, German Minister Heil thanked Commissioner Schmit and his counterparts for their good, intensive work together, which often had to take unusual and pragmatic forms during the pandemic. Looking at the months ahead, he said:

We have already accomplished a lot, but a lot of work also still remains to be done. We will continue to work hard on topics such as human rights in global supply chains and fair working conditions in the platform economy. But I am especially pleased that the Commission will soon make a proposal for an EU framework on minimum wages. Everybody should be able to make a decent living from their wages not matter where they live in the EU.

In the afternoon, German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Franziska Giffey chaired the discussion about gender equality in the labour market. Minister Giffey said that she was committed to continuing the fight against the unequal division of paid work and unpaid care work between women and men, including at the European level:

Gender equality in the labour market is not a luxury. It makes the European Union more robust in social and economic terms, especially during times of crisis. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted how unequally work is divided between men and women. It has become clear that it is mainly women who have kept things running during the pandemic. Across Europe, more than 75 percent of workers in critical occupations are women. But in leadership positions, women are underrepresented. Most unpaid care work is also shouldered by women - often at the expense of their own careers and pensions. But the past months have also revealed lots of potential. Many fathers have been investing more time in childcare and housework than before the crisis. Partnership plays an important part in advancing gender equality on the labour market.

During the discussion, the gender equality ministers reported on their countries’ approaches to achieving greater gender equality in the labour market. 

For German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Giffey, there is no doubt that: 

We need good framework conditions so that the full potential of women can be unleashed - even more so in times of crisis.