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Talking Europe interviews the EU commissioner in charge of jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit. He speaks to the importance of protecting workers, particularly the “gig” or “platform” workers, whose status is at the core of a dispute between the European Commission and several EU member states. He also addresses the issue of “social dumping” – people being paid below their level of skills – an issue of relevance not only to EU workers, but also to Ukrainian refugees that have been granted permission to live and work in the EU. Plus, he explains the implementation of the EU Directive on adequate minimum wages, as economic conditions in Europe threaten people’s purchasing power; especially that of poorer members of society.

Against the backdrop of the “European Year of Skills”, Schmit emphasises that people should be paid according to their competencies and diplomas, and that they must not be undervalued. “It is in our interest to use people’s skills at the right level,” he says. “And I really appeal to member states, to social partners, to services, to employers, to unions, to combat social dumping very efficiently.”

In the case of Ukrainian refugees who have been granted the right to live and work in the EU under the Temporary Protection Directive, Schmit says: “I cannot totally exclude that cases of social dumping have happened. There are Ukrainian doctors who cannot work as doctors because we do not recognise their diplomas, although we have shortages in that sector. So there is margin for improvement here; there is not an absolute correspondence between Ukrainian diplomas and EU ones, but we are working on that.”

Schmit says he cannot “hide a certain disappointment” that the Platform Workers’ Directive is now being delayed, despite an earlier agreement that was struck after two years of negotiations. This means that some gig or platform workers – for example food delivery bike couriers – might not be reclassified as employees, and thus not enjoy certain social protections. “There had been a hard negotiation to achieve an agreement, but unfortunately this did not find a qualified majority in the EU Council,” Schmit comments. “Now, I fully trust the Belgian EU presidency to relaunch this negotiation. I know that the Belgian presidency is very committed to finding a compromise, because it is absolutely necessary to give hundreds of thousands of gig workers fair labour rights and fair working conditions. We cannot disappoint them.”

Schmit has championed the minimum wage across Europe. On the transposition of the Directive on adequate minimum wages into national legislations, he says: “The process is ongoing, with a deadline at the end of this year. We are discussing with and assisting member states. But what we notice now, especially in this period of higher prices and inflation, is that many member states have increased minimum wages in order to guarantee purchasing power. So the Directive has already had an impact. This process is very important in the context of stronger social and wage convergence in Europe. We cannot build a Europe with, on the one side, higher wages, better wages, and in other parts of Europe low wages and bad working conditions.”

Schmit briefly reacts to reports that his name has been circulating as the potential lead candidate for the European Socialists in the June 2024 EU elections. “The procedure is ongoing and, probably in a relatively short time, we will know more about it. As I’ve said, if I’m asked to take this job, I will reflect on it and I can say that I will accept it.”

Produced by Isabelle Romero, Sophie Samaille, Perrine Desplats and Juliette Laurain

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