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International and European Labour Law

Social issues have a special status in the European Union. Social policy is the joint responsibility of the European Union and the Member States.

The current social guidelines originated with the Treaty of Amsterdam (which came into effect on 1 May 1999) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, Lisbon Treaty, 1 December 2009).

The objectives of European social policy

The objectives of European social policy include the promotion of employment, the improvement of living and working conditions in order to enable their approximation via progress, proper social protection, social dialogue, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment levels, and the combatting of exclusion.

In order to realise these objectives, in accordance with Art. 153 of the TFEU, those activities of the Member States that improve the following areas will be particularly supported:

  • Working conditions and a working environment which protect the health and safety of workers
  • Social security and social protection
  • The protection of workers when their employment contract is terminated
  • The information and consultation of workers
  • The representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers, including co-determination
  • Conditions of employment for third-country nationals legally residing in Union territory
  • The integration of persons excluded from the labour market
  • Equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work
  • Combating social exclusion
  • The modernisation of social protection systems.

Acting on a Commission proposal, the Council together with European Parliament issues directives and regulations, which have to be implemented by the Member States.

Combating discrimination

Art. 19 TFEU provides a comprehensive legal basis to combat discrimination for reasons of gender, race or ethnicity, religion or views, a disability, age or sexual orientation.

According to Art. 157 TFEU, women and men are entitled to the same pay for the same work or work of the same value. In order to ensure the effective full equality of women and men in employment, specific preferential treatment for the under-represented sex can be retained or adopted.

Last update: 8 November 2019