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The Social Charter, a Social Constitution for Europe?

The Council of Europe has produced this film with the aim of promoting the European Social Charter. This is a new way of communicating about human rights. The film implies that the implementation of the Charter contributes to the quality of people’s everyday life. It shows this through images of positive everyday situations, reflecting circumstances in which social rights are fully effective.

At a time when these fundamental rights are under pressure or even at risk, this treaty guarantees day-to-day human needs: work; health; housing; education; social security and protection, welfare services. The film suggests that implementing this Social Constitution of Europe therefore means ensuring dignity, bringing people together, contributing to their individual and collective wellbeing, as well as leading to social cohesion, peace and economic development.

The film has been made in the framework of the Turin process for the European Social Charter, an initiative launched by Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland in 2014 to reinforce the Charter, one of the key priorities of his mandate.

The film can be downloaded: long version and short version.

A Right to Housing Seminar with Mercy Law Resource Centre

One active member of the ESC Rights initiative, the Mercy Law Resource Centre,  with Senator Colette Kelleher (Independent – Civil Engagement Group) and Simon Community invite you to a A Right to Housing Seminar!

· Date: Thursday, July 13th, 2017

· Time: 10.00am – 2.00pm

· Venue: Emmet Theatre, Trinity Conference Centre, Trinity College Dublin.

This seminar will bring together key stakeholders to outline the importance of a constitutional right to housing and to map out the next steps that could be taken, working collectively, to advance the right to housing from a policy, legislative and constitutional perspective.  Speakers  to date are:

· Kitty Holland, The Irish Times.
· Rory Hearne, NUI Maynooth.
· Karen McLoughlin, SIPTU.
· Niamh Randall, Simon Communities.
· Maeve Regan, Mercy Law Resource Centre.
· Professor Gerry Whyte, Trinity College Dublin.

To register for this free event please RSVP to communications@simoncommunity.com by Monday July 10th. For further information please contact 01 671 1606.

The Council of Europe campaigns to reinforce social rights in Europe

On 29 and 30 June 2017, the Conference of the International NGOs at the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted both statements to support the strengthening of Social Rights in Europe. PACE adopted a resolution on “The ‘Turin process’: reinforcing social rights in Europe”.

The so-called “Turin process” was launched by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in 2014 and aims at strengthening fundamental rights in Europe, especially the better implementation of the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe into European Union law.

In its latest resolution, PACE now states that “social rights are fundamental human rights” which should be granted to all citizens. The parliamentarians are concerned about the lack of compliance with social rights standards as outlined in the European Social Charter in different European states, but also in EU legislation. Unfortunately no Irish TDs participated to the Vote.

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PACE parliamentarians and International NGOs (see communiqué below) call upon EU policy and law makers to incorporate the European Social Charter into the European Pillar of Social Rights to improve common bench-marking and coordination of social rights within Europe. With regards to complaint mechanisms, the resolution calls for a strengthening of the collective complaints mechanism linked to the European Social Charter.

Thanks to participatory status at the Council of Europe, many INGOs are able to launch complaints at the European Committee of Social Rights in cases of possible non-compliance with the European Social Charter. Currently a complaint submitted by FIDH is focusing on housing conditions in Council Estates in Ireland.

 

Together in Equality, Together in Pride, Together in Solidarity!

Ireland made history on the 22 May 2015 with the Yes Equality approved by 62% of voters at a referendum with a turnout of 61%. The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution permits now marriage to be contracted by two persons without distinction as to their sex. This was the first time that a state legalised same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

The 1st March 2017 was again a historic day for Ireland. After decades of campaigning by Travellers and allies, activists and human rights organisations, there finally came the moment when the Irish State recognised that Travellers are a minority ethnic group. The excitement on that day was palpable. The intense emotion and pride of that moment when the Taoiseach made his address is something many in the LGBTQ community related to.

Now Ireland is invited to make history again… let say in 2019! Will you join the campaigners of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative and call on the Government to respond to the citizens vote of the Constitutional Convention of 2014? In February 2014, the recommendations of the 8th Constitutional Convention Report on Economic Social and Cultural Rights recommended by 85% support votes that the Constitution be amended to strengthen the protection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. If the Government doesn’t respect the decision of the body it created, let’s be active citizens together and make it happen in a democratic way.

Join the ESC Rights Initiative and let’s prepare together the Yes Solidarity referendum!

 

Jane O’Sullivan (Community Law and Mediation) writes about the ESC Rights Conference!

This article is a guest piece by Jane O’Sullivan of Community Law and Mediation first published in the PILA Bulletin: 24 May 2017

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative (ESCRI) is a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that support strengthening the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the Irish Constitution.  Members of the ESC Rights Initiative include Age Action, All Together in Dignity, Community Action Network, Community Law and Mediation, Focus Ireland, Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Mercy Law Resource Centre.  ESC rights belong to everyone in Ireland. The Irish Government committed to uphold them when it ratified the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1989. The protection of these rights is necessary to ensure a life of dignity.

On Wednesday 29th March 2017, the ESC Rights Initiative’s first conference brought together a diverse range of stakeholders to consider enforceability and accountability mechanisms for ESC rights at national, regional and international level and the need to enhance the protection of these rights. Speakers considered why enforceable ESC rights are important and the real and practical difference enforceability could make for individuals and groups in Ireland.

The conference was opened by Aiden Lloyd of the ESC Rights Initiative.  Before a capacity crowd, Jamie Burton of Doughty Street Chambers in London gave an enlightening keynote address.  The first panel, chaired by Anastasia Crickley, examined a State’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, how these obligations have been interpreted in other jurisdictions and how a balance can be achieved in the separation of powers between the different branches of government.   Dr Helen Johnston, Senior Policy Analyst, National Economic and Social Council, Colin Harvey, Professor of Human Rights Law, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast and Gerry Whyte, Professor of Law, Trinity College Dublin provided a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion.

The second panel was chaired by Dr. Liam Thornton of UCD Law School and asked what enforceable economic, social and cultural rights would mean in practice.  The wonderful contributions of Siobhan Curran of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Eoin Carroll of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dr Austin O’Carroll and Debbie Mulhall of Dolphin House Community Development Association and founding member of Rialto Rights in Action, put socio-economic rights in the context of real life and gave everyday examples of how the protection of these rights would affect the lives of people, particularly those at the margins of our society, for the better.

The third panel, chaired by Cecilia Forrestal of Community Action Network, explored how we can meaningfully progress towards the realisation of ESC rights in Ireland. In particular, panellists suggested mechanisms and strategies to trigger the implementation of ESC rights in a manner that allays the concerns of the State and citizens alike.  This final panel featured excellent presentations by Mary Murphy of NUI Maynooth and IHREC, Eilis Barry, CEO of FLAC and Dr Padraic Kenna, Lecturer in NUI Galway’s Department of Law.

Michael Farrell, member of the Council of State of Ireland, the Irish member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and former senior solicitor at FLAC expertly summed up a day of rich discussion in his closing remarks.

The consequences of a lack of enforceability of ESC rights in Ireland are stark.  There is work to be done and this event, showing the wealth of knowledge in theory and practice, as well as a strong sense of solidarity and decency backed by strong legal obligations, was an important step on that journey.

The ESC Rights Initiative is delighted to announce that videos of contributions  and photos of the event  are now available on its website.

You can follow the work of the Initiative on Twitter and on its website.

This conference was funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Grant Scheme 2016-2017.

The European Commission presented the project of European Pillar of Social Rights

 

 

Building a fairer Europe and strengthening its social dimension is a key priority for the current European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker

On 26 April 2017, it delivered on its promise to adopt its proposal for the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar sets out 20 key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. The Pillar is designed as a compass for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe. It is primarily conceived for the euro area but applicable to all EU Member States wishing to be part of it.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “As Commission President, I have been seeking to put social priorities at the heart of Europe’s work, where they belong. With the European Pillar of Social Rights and the first set of initiatives that accompany it, we are delivering on our promises and we are opening a new chapter. We want to write this chapter together: Member States, EU institutions, the social partners and civil society all have to take on their responsibility. I would like to see the Pillar endorsed at the highest political level before the end of this year.”

The Pillar was prepared by the Commission, under the leadership of Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Thyssen, in close consultation with stakeholders at all levels. It reaffirms rights that are already present in the EU and international legal acquis and complements them to take account of new realities. The principles and rights enshrined in the Pillar are structured around three categories: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. They place the focus on how to tackle new developments in the world of work and society at large so as to deliver on the promise of the Treaties of a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress.

Delivering on the principles and rights defined in the European Pillar of Social Rights is a joint responsibility of Member States, EU institutions social partners and other stakeholders. The European institutions will help to set the framework and lead the way forward for the implementation of the Pillar, in full respect of Member States’ competences and social dialogue traditions. A number of principles and rights included in the Pillar will require further legislative initiatives to become effective. Where needed, existing EU law will be updated, complemented and better enforced.

Already today, the European Commission flanks the European Pillar of Social Rights with a number of further concrete legislative and non-legislative initiatives such as on the work-life balance of parents and carers, on the information of workers, and on access to social protection and on working time. These initiatives illustrate both the nature of the issues covered by the Pillar as well as the way in which its principles and rights can be implemented.

A social scoreboard is also established to track trends and performances across EU countries in 12 areas and to assess progress towards a social “triple A” for the EU as a whole. This analysis will feed into the European Semester of economic policy coordination.

Delivering on the Pillar’s principles and rights is a dynamic process. The Pillar will inspire the work done in the context of the European Semester and on the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union. In particular, the Pillar should serve to re-start the process of convergence within the EMU and some of the principles and rights could act as guidance towards more binding standards for the euro area. The European funds, in particularly the European Social Fund, will also provide financial support to implement many key aspects of the Pillar.

  • Next Steps

The Pillar presented on the 26th April under two legal forms with identical content: as a Commission Recommendation, effective as of this day and as a proposal for a joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. On this basis, the Commission will now enter into discussions with the European Parliament and the Council to work towards broad political support and high-level endorsement of the Pillar.

  • The European Parliament calls for highest possible common standards

On 26th April, MEPs stressed in a debate that the “European Pillar of Social Rights” which includes common EU-wide social rights should be pegged at the highest level and not lead to a “race to the bottom”.
“The Pillar’s three key parts – equal opportunities in access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection – were presented by Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who stressed the need to promote “upward convergence” among EU member states by reforming working and social conditions on the best available model. In the ensuing debate, MEPs mostly agreed with the proposals, although several speakers called for more ambitious legislation at EU level. They also felt that more needed to be done to fight poverty and youth unemployment. Others pointed out that social security systems, which are costly, are the responsibility of national governments, and therefore opposed shifting more powers to EU level. Commissioner Marianne Thyssen wrapped up the debate by reiterating that the pillar is the start of the process and provides guidance for better employment, while the details will have to be hammered out in consultations with social partners, and debates between the European Parliament, the EU Commission and the member states.”

  • The European Anti-Poverty Network welcomed the good intentions behind the European Pillar of Social Rights but is asking: “is it enough to save Social Europe?”

The European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) is the largest European network of national, regional and local networks, involving anti-poverty NGOs and grassroots groups as well as European Organisations, active in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. It was established in 1990.

EAPN welcomeed the adoption of the Communication and the Social Pillar package as an important demonstration of a will to deliver on President Juncker’s promise of the “Social Triple A”, at a time when Europe faces the consequences of long standing mistakes and a real threat of disintegration. However, we are concerned about the concrete impact on the lives of the 1 in 4 Europeans living in poverty.  Will it help to guarantee or reinforce their social rights? Will it help to rebalance the EU priorities to ensure economy policies deliver for people, not just for business? These in the end will be the key tests if people are to renew their faith in Social Europe.

Initial key positive elements include a clear rights-based approach aiming at upward convergence on rights as well as improving take up of rights. Some important improvements are seen in the key principles – for example the recognition that children have a right to protection from poverty, the new provision of a right to social protection to apply to all types of workers; the recognition of the right to adequate unemployment benefits for reasonable duration, and very importantly for EAPN, the explicit stating of the right to a minimum income that ensures a life in dignity. The legislative proposals on work-life balance and access to social protection also appear a positive step forward, as do the extension of a social scoreboard and the mainstreaming of monitoring through the European Semester.

However, the pillar remains a framework of principles rather than binding obligations that can guarantee rights, particularly for the most vulnerable, and initially it is only focused on the Euro area, and this is one of the major concerns. The lack of focus on poverty and social exclusion (beyond children), or link to Europe 2020 targets raises high concerns. We would need to see more concrete benchmarks particularly in key areas of social protection and social inclusion, linked to active inclusion, and explore in detail how the package will be implemented on the ground with the involvement of Member States and stakeholders. The lack of concrete legal and non-legal initiatives and proposals for EU frameworks on minimum income, minimum wage and funding levels for social protection raises worries of how the package will benefit those people who are not working, or only in poor quality jobs. Finally, whilst civil society is identified as an actor to aid implementation, civil dialogue is not considered on a par with social dialogue, which is a very difficult to understand – and accept – missed opportunity.

“We had, understandably, great expectations about the pillar. As we have said so many times, we believed this could be the last chance for rebuilding a Social Europe. Therefore, and believing that this initiative will really make a difference to people’s lives, we actively involved our members and people experiencing poverty in consultations at local, national and EU levels. It is absolutely vital that this initiative leads to concrete and some immediate results for people living in poverty, otherwise it will be impossible to keep and gain support for defending Social Europe – or any Europe at all.” said Sérgio Aires, President of EAPN.

EAPN will be examining the package in detail with its members over the coming weeks.

  • FEANTSA warmly welcomed the fact that Priority 19 is “housing and assistance for the homeless”

FEANTSA is the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, the only European NGO focusing exclusively on the fight against homelessness. FEANTSA’s ultimate goal is an end to homelessness in Europe. Established in 1989, it brings together non-profit services that support homeless people in Europe with over 130 member organisations from 30 countries, including 28 Member States.

FEANTSA warmly welcomed the fact that Priority 19 is “housing and assistance for the homeless”, stating:

  1. Access to social housing or housing assistance of good quality shall be provided for those in need.
  2. Vulnerable people have the right to appropriate assistance and protection against forced eviction.
  3. Adequate shelter and services shall be provided to the homeless in order to promote their social inclusion.

This brings together various aspects of the right to housing in a new way at EU level. It establishes that everyone in the EU should have a decent home, with social housing or housing assistance provided to those who need it. People should be protected from eviction and no one should ever be left without shelter.

FEANTSA is hopeful that Priority 19 can become an actionable framework for real progress. It is campaigning for the EU to be fair, and stand up for homeless people. FEANTSA will be working in the next weeks and months to ensure that the Pillar delivers more than the proclamation of housing rights. It will  work with the Commission, national governments, regions, cities and other stakeholders to turn Priority 19 into more political ambition and concrete measures to put an end to homelessness and secure the right to housing for all.

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  • The Background to the Pillar

The EU is home to the most advanced welfare systems in the world and to a wealth of best practices and social innovations, but it needs to confront and adapt to unprecedented societal challenges. Although economic and social conditions across Europe have improved and employment has never been as high, the aftermath of the crisis of the last decade is still far-reaching, from long-term and youth unemployment to risks of poverty in many parts of Europe. At the same time, the world of work and our societies are changing fast, with new opportunities and new challenges arising from globalisation, the digital revolution, changing work patterns and demographic developments. All levels of public authorities, social partners and civil society share a responsibility and an interest in working for a more prosperous and future-proof Europe, where economic and social developments go hand in hand.

The Juncker Commission made a social Europe one of its priorities from the very start, as reflected in its Political Guidelines of July 2014. In September 2015, on the occasion of President Juncker’s first State of the Union, he said: “We have to step up the work for a fair and truly pan-European labour market. (…) As part of these efforts, I will want to develop a European Pillar of Social Rights, which takes account of the changing realities of Europe’s societies and the world of work.

Since this announcement, the Commission has engaged actively with Member States, EU institutions, social partners, civil society and citizens on the content and role of the Pillar. In March 2016, the Commission presented a preliminary outline of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and launched a broad public consultation to gather feedback, which concluded in January 2017 with a high-level conference.

Building on the input received during the consultation, the Commission now puts forward its proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights, which is about delivering new and more effective rights for citizens. The Pillar takes direct inspiration from the richness of the practices across Europe, and builds on the strong body of law which exists at EU and international level.

For more information

MEMO: The European Pillar of Social Rights – Questions and Answers

Factsheet: European Pillar of Social Rights

Commission Communication on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Further information on the 20 principles and rights under the European Pillar of Social Rights

Report following the public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Factsheet: Social Scoreboard

Brochure: Social Scoreboard 2017

Social Scoreboard online tool

Website on the European Pillar of Social Rights

EU Press release: Delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Reflection paper on the social dimension of the future of the EU

EAPN Position Paper on the Pillar of Social Rights

FEANTSA press release

The speakers at the ESC Rights Conference! More pictures!

“Making ESC Rights Meaningful” in video

You can watch the different contributions at the conference here!





From Toronto to Dublin… Housing is a human right, not a commodity

An Opinion Piece by Leilani Farha  UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing published by The Globe and Mail on

“Toronto’s overheated housing market is now being called a crisis, and evidence has been offered to support wildly divergent opinions on its causes. Some suggest it’s a problem of unprecedented demand for housing; others say it’s all about lack of sufficient supply. I’d like to suggest it’s neither.

What’s happening in Toronto is not new, it’s a phenomenon seen elsewhere – in Vancouver and places across the globe such as Hong Kong, London, New York, Singapore, Sydney, and Stockholm. Vancouverite and urban planner Andy Yan has termed them “hedge cities” – places that offer us insight into the heart of the matter.

Housing is now predominantly valued as a commodity, traded and sold on markets, promoted and invested in as a secure place to park unprecedented amounts of excess capital. The view of housing as a human dwelling, a place to raise families and thrive within a community, has largely been eroded. Despite its firm place in international human rights law, housing has lost its currency as a human right.

In Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere, residential and commercial real estate have become the “commodity of choice” for corporate finance, and the uber rich. Global residential real estate is now valued at $163-trillion (U.S.), more than twice the world’s total GDP. In Canada in 2016, real estate represented the third-largest segment of our economy but accounted for half the country’s GDP growth.

The consequences of placing the interests of investors before human rights are stark.

In hedge cities, housing prices have increased to levels that moderate- and low-income residents can barely afford. In the Greater Toronto Area, for example, in the last 30 years (1986 – 2016) housing prices have increased by 425 per cent, whereas in a similar 30-year period (1985 – 2015), average family income has only grown by 133 per cent. Housing prices have increased at three times the rate of income. No longer commensurate with household income levels, housing prices are driven instead by demand for high-end assets among global investors.

In other countries, the result has been devastating. In the U.S., in the five years after the 2008 mortgage crisis, nine million households were evicted due to foreclosure; in Spain during the same period, 300,000 were evicted. Legendary Wall Street short-seller Marc Cohodes has predicted that this is the direction in which Canada is now headed.

Large-scale foreclosure-related evictions should give rise to outrage about a lack of oversight by governments and mass violations of human rights. Instead, countries responded by favouring the interests of financial institutions while wagging patronizing fingers at those who have lost their homes; the failure to regulate financial markets and prevent predatory lending occurred with relative impunity.

While the recent federal budget would have you think otherwise, financial markets and global housing investments are not, in fact, beyond the control of governments.

Policy responses to the financialization of housing aimed at curbing its excesses are starting to dot the domestic and international landscape, with all levels of government participating. British Columbia has imposed a 15-per-cent tax on foreign investment in residential real estate, and the City of Vancouver has instituted a 1-per-cent tax on self-reported vacant homes. Both interventions are directing revenues toward affordable-housing options. A number of jurisdictions, including China, have introduced a property speculation tax, and others, such as the City of London, pushed a requirement that developers include a proportion of affordable units in new builds. Barcelona is one of a few governments to affirm the social function of housing, facilitating temporary expropriation of vacant housing and prohibiting foreclosures and evictions that would result in homelessness.

While these types of measures can mitigate the effects of the financialization of housing, the assumption that countries should simply allow markets to work according to their own rules, subject only to the requirement that private actors “do no harm,” is simply not sufficient. Human rights set a more robust standard of accountability. States are required to take an active role in ensuring low- and middle-income people can enjoy housing as a home; they must insist that markets meet housing needs, including affordability.

From a policy perspective, this means a profoundly different approach by countries in decision making. Whether it is taxation policy, land-use planning, zoning, or broader housing policy, decisions must be guided by the needs of residents for adequate, affordable and secure housing, as opposed to the financial security and gain of investors. Enjoyment of human rights would be the goal.

And so, what is presented as the private market gone mad is, in fact, something far more deliberate: the failure of governments to govern in a manner that is consistent with human rights. The solution requires a fundamental shift – one that prioritizes human interests over economic ones.”

Early pictures of the “Making ESC Rights Meaningful” Conference

Here are a few pictures of
the “Making ESC Rights Meaningful” Conference.

More extensive and better picture and video coverage coming soon!

 

 

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