European Committee Finds Health, Social Security Violations in 33 Countries
On January 24, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) published its 2017 conclusions regarding 33 States’ implementation of the European Social Charter’s provisions related to health, social security, and social protection, and found 175 instances of non-conformity out of 486 situations examined. [ECSR Press Release] Additionally, the ECSR was unable to adequately assess the situation in 83 cases due to lack of information. [ECSR Press Release] The ECSR emphasized the need for States to implement measures to improve workplace safety, maternal and infant mortality, social security benefits, and policies addressing poverty and social exclusion. See ECSR, European Social Charter Social Rights Monitoring 2017: Health, Social Security and Social Protection (2018), 1. The ECSR noted positive developments regarding the framework and adoption of measures with respect to health and safety at work as well as the extension of social security benefits with regards to healthcare and disability. See id. Three States (Greece, Iceland, and Luxembourg) failed to submit their reports on time for review by the ECSR; conclusions on those States will be issued at a later date in 2018. See id.
In 2017, the Committee analyzed 33 States’ compliance with the European Social Charter by reviewing their reports concerning the period of 2012 to 2015 with regard to: the right to health and safety at work (Article 3), the right to health (Article 11), the right to social security (Article 12), the right to social and medical assistance (Article 13), the right to social services (Article 14), the rights of the elderly to social protection (Article 23, Article 4 of the 1988 Additional Protocol), and the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion (Article 30). See ECSR, Press Briefing Elements Conclusions 2017 (2018), 3. The Committee adopted 486 conclusions regarding States’ implementation of the Charter, in which it found that 36 percent of the situations did not conform with the Charter, 47 percent of situations conformed to the Charter, and 17 percent of cases lacked sufficient information to make a conclusion at this time. See id.
The 33 States that submitted reports for review were Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Spain, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. See id.
Violations by Article
The ECSR expressed concern that a number of States have violated Article 3 (right to safe and healthy working conditions) of the Charter when they failed to take sufficient measures to reduce the number of accidents at work; cover self-employed or domestic workers by occupational health and safety regulations; and maintain labor inspection systems with sufficient human and financial resources. See id. at 4.
The ECSR expressed concern that a number of States have failed to meet their Article 11 (right to protection of health) obligations, by failing to adequately address persistent high rates of maternal and infant mortality, excessively long wait times for public health care, low expenditure on public healthcare, high proportions of out-of-pocket payments for health care, and failure to provide free and regular consultation and screenings for pregnant women and children. See id. at 4-5. The ECSR found that States could improve their commitments to the right to health by promoting health through measures addressing causes of ill-health, education, awareness-raising, and prevention. See id. at 4.
The ECSR expressed concern that States were not meeting their Article 12 (right to social security) obligations. While the ECSR noted that most States parties have a collectively funded social security system that covers individuals in a number of situations, including unemployment, old age, and during maternity leave, the Committee found that Georgia’s social security covered an inadequate number of risks, and that eight other States failed to prove whether or not coverage was sufficient. See id. at 5. The ECSR noted with concern that the level of benefits in many States fell below the poverty line; that unemployment benefits in several States were restricted based on the amount of benefit, or were restricted as to the duration and condition of payments; and that no States parties were in compliance with the requirement to coordinate social benefits for persons who move between States. See id. at 5-6. Positively, the ECSR found that 20 of 25 States had increased the level of social security during the period of observation. See id. at 6.
The ECSR expressed concern that States failed to meet their obligations in relation to Article 13 (right to social and medical assistance) and Article 14 (right to social services). In particular, the ECSR noted that a number of States failed to provide adequate levels of social assistance, or provide aid to all persons in need; provide medical and social assistance to all persons lawfully within the State’s territory regardless of nationality by imposing a minimum length of residency requirement; or provide emergency social or medical assistance to unlawfully present foreign nationals, though this was not a problem in most States. See id. at 6-7. With regards to the right to social services, the ECSR noted that some States failed to provide, or restricted, social services for foreign nationals and failed to provide information on the adequacy of social services, including on private providers’ provision of services. See id. at 7.
The ECSR expressed concern that States failed to meet their Article 23 (right of the elderly to social protection) obligations. In particular, the ECSR noted that Malta and Turkey failed to write or implement legislation on the prohibition of age-discrimination; several States failed to provide adequate old-age pensions; Montenegro failed to create licensing or accreditation programs for elderly accommodation facilities; and the Slovak Republic failed to establish that residential care programs are sufficient to meet the demands of elderly persons. See id. at 7-8.
The ECSR expressed concern that States failed to meet their Article 30 (right to be protected against poverty and social exclusion) commitments, for those 13 States parties that are currently bound by Article 30. See id. at 8. In particular, the ECSR noted that eight States failed to implement a coordinated approach to combat poverty and social exclusion and to undertake properly targeted measures to address the full extent of poverty in the States. See id. Poverty levels in Europe, the Committee found, are generally high and the measures taken are insufficient. See id. Further, at this time, many States have opted not to be bound by the obligations under Article 30.
The ECSR noted specific examples of improvements in the areas of health, social security, and social exclusion in 25 States. These improvements include, for example, the expansion of regulations for minimum health and safety requirements in the workplace, including protective equipment; the expansion of healthcare coverage to certain groups of people and conditions; legislation on psychosocial risks at work, including the prevention of psychosocial risks in public service jobs; measures taken to combat poverty and exclusion; launching of universal health care; eliminating time limits on survivors pensions; and reducing the minimum age to receive a pension for high-risk jobs, such as mining. See generally id. at 9-24.
Non-Conformity With 2015 Conclusions
The Committee also analyzed reports from certain States on the ECSR’s 2015 conclusions of non-conformity for repeated lack of information in 85 cases. Out of the 85 instances, the ECSR found that 24 situations had been brought into conformity with the Charter, 42 situations constituted a violation or lacked information so as to be considered a violation, and 19 cases required a deferral of conclusions. See id. at 3.
Background on the European Committee of Social Rights
The European Committee of Social Rights, which has its seat in Strasbourg, France, is the regional body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the 1961 European Social Charter, its 1988 Additional Protocol, and the 1996 Revised European Social Charter. These instruments address topics that can largely be characterized as labor rights, such as the rights to safe working conditions, collective bargaining, and fair pay, and social welfare rights, such as the right to benefit from social welfare services and the right of workers and their dependents to social security. See International Justice Resource Center, European Committee of Social Rights.
The Committee, which consists of 15 independent experts, fulfills its mandate by managing a State reporting system and an innovative collective complaints procedure. States are afforded a certain level of flexibility in deciding which Charter provisions to accept and whether or not to participate in the collective complaints procedure. See International Justice Resource Center, European Committee of Social Rights.
The conclusions by the ECSR summarize State obligations in the thematic area currently under review and measures whether States are in conformity with the Charter, according to reports submitted by the States parties, information from trade unions and employers’ organizations, and any other source of information that the ECSR deems relevant when examining national situations. See ECSR, European Social Charter Social Rights Monitoring 2017: Health, Social Security and Social Protection, 2.