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#ETUC - Trade unions meet French president in Paris

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The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) will have a meeting with the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, on Friday 21 July at 11am at the Elysée Palace.  Leading the ETUC delegation will be ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini, who will be accompanied by ETUC Confederal Secretary Thiébaut Weber and the Secretary Generals of the five French trade unions affiliated to the ETUC: Laurent Berger (CFDT), Philippe Martinez (CGT), Jean-Claude Mailly (FO), Philippe Louis (CFTC), Luc Bérille (UNSA).

The meeting is on European affairs, and will include the future of Europe, the proposed European Pillar of Social Rights, and the revision of the directive on posted workers.  The future of Europe refers to the ongoing debate on the future development of the EU and to the reflection papers on various topics published by the European Commission.

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“This is a vital year for the future of Europe and social Europe,” said Luca Visentini, “and we are determined to ensure that the EU stands up for the interests of working people. European leaders talk about economic recovery but many working people have yet to feel any better off.

“I hope France will play a constructive role in achieving a stronger Europe, an ambitious European Pillar of Social Rights backed up by legislative action, and a brighter future for working people across Europe.

“I am looking forward to meeting the President and seeing what areas of common agreement we can find.”

To date this year Visentini has had bi-lateral meetings with the Prime Ministers of Italy, Malta, Estonia, Bulgaria and Croatia; and with the labour ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Luxembourg, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta.

Employment

Only 5% of total applications for long-term skilled work visas submitted in first quarter came from EU citizens, data shows

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The figures released by the UK Home Office give an indication of how Britain’s new post-Brexit immigration system will affect numbers of EU citizens coming to the UK to work. Between January 1 and March 31 this year EU citizens made 1,075 applications for long-term skilled work visas, including the health and care visa, which was just 5% of the total 20,738 applications for these visas.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “It is still too early to say what impact the post-Brexit immigration system will have on the numbers and characteristics of people coming to live or work in the UK. So far, applications from EU citizens under the new system have been very low and represent just a few percent of total demand for UK visas. However, it may take some time for potential applicants or their employers to become familiar with the new system and its requirements.”

The data also shows that the number of migrant healthcare workers coming to work in the UK has risen to record levels. 11,171 certificates of sponsorship were used for health and social care workers during the first quarter of this year. Each certificate equates to a migrant worker. At the start of 2018, there were 3,370. Nearly 40 percent of all skilled work visa applications were for people in the health and social work sector. There are now more migrant healthcare visa holders in the UK than at any time since records began in 2010. Although the number of sponsor licences for healthcare visas dropped to 280 during the first lockdown last year, it has continued to rise since, a pattern which was unaffected by the third lockdown this winter.

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Conversely, the IT, education, finance, insurance, professional, scientific and technical sectors have all seen a drop in the number of migrants employed so far this year, despite rallying during the second half of 2020. The number of migrant IT workers is still significantly lower than pre-Covid levels. In the first quarter of 2020 there were 8,066 skilled work visas issued in the IT sector, there are currently 3,720. The number of migrant professionals and scientific and technical workers has also dipped slightly below pre-Covid levels.

Visa expert Yash Dubal, Director of A Y & J Solicitors said: “The data shows that the pandemic is still affecting the movement of people coming to the UK to work but does give an indication that demand for skilled work visas for workers outside the EU will continue to grow once travel has been normalised. There is particular interest in British IT jobs from workers in India now and we expect to see this pattern continue.”

Meanwhile the Home Office has published a commitment to enable the legitimate movement of people and goods to support economic prosperity, while tackling illegal migration. As part of its Outcome Delivery Plan for this year the department also pledges to ‘seize EU exit opportunities, through creating the world’s most effective border to increase UK prosperity and enhance security’, while acknowledging that income it collects from visa fees may decrease due to reduced demand.

The document reiterates the Government’s plan to attract the "brightest and best to the UK".

Dubal said: “While the figures relating to visas for IT workers and those in the scientific and technical sectors do not bear this commitment out, it is still early days for the new immigration system and the pandemic has had a profound effect on international travel. From our experience helping facilitate work visas for migrants there is a pent-up demand that will be realised over the coming 18 months.”

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Economy

CJEU reaffirms restrictions excluding Muslim women in the workplace

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Today (15 July), the top European Union court - the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – made it clear that employers can restrict the wearing of ‘religious symbols’, such as Islamic headscarves, but only in limited circumstances

The CJEU found that such policies must be applied in a general and undifferentiated way and that they must present evidence that they are necessary to meet a  “genuine need on the part of the employer.” In reconciling the rights and interests at issue, “national courts may take into account the specific context of their member state” and, in particular, “more favourable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion”.

Despite taking into account the context of other, more progressive member states, the CJEU decision, today, is likely to have far-reaching implications, and may continue to exclude many Muslim women–and those of other religious minorities – from various jobs in Europe.

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Commenting on today’s ruling, Maryam H'madoun of the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) said: “Laws, policies and practices prohibiting religious dress are targeted manifestations of Islamophobia that seek to exclude Muslim women from public life or render them invisible. Discrimination masquerading as “neutrality” is the veil that actually needs to be lifted. A rule that expects every person to have the same outward appearance is not neutral. It deliberately discriminates against people because they are visibly religious. Courts across Europe and the UN Human Rights Committee have emphasized that the wearing of a headscarf does not cause any form of harm that would give rise to a “genuine need” by an employer to implement such practices. To the contrary, such policies and practices stigmatize women belonging to or perceived to belong to Europe’s racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, increasing the risk of higher rates of violence and hate crimes, and risking the intensifying and entrenching of xenophobia and racial discrimination, and ethnic inequalities. Employers who implement these policies and practices should tread carefully, as they risk being found liable for discrimination under both European and national laws if they can't demonstrate a genuine need for a religious dress ban."

The ruling will now return to German courts for final decisions on the two cases based on Thursday's guidance on EU law from the Luxembourg-based judges.

In the first case, a Muslim employee of an interdenominational day-care centre had been given several warnings because she had come to work wearing a headscarf. The Hamburg Labour Court then heard a case on whether those entries must be deleted from her personnel file. The court turned to the ECJ.

In the second, the Federal Labour Court took a similar approach in 2019 with the case of a Muslim woman from the Nuremberg area who had filed a complaint against a headscarf ban at the drugstore chain Mueller.

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Brexit

British government trying to cope with labour shortages

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More and more workers from Eastern Europe have been returning to their home countries as both the COVID restrictions and Brexit put a strain on the British labour market. The shortage has pushed the UK government to find alternatives as well as trying to convince workers not to return home. Attracting new workers from abroad seems to be the government’s new priority, as well as imposing fewer work restrictions to truck drivers who want to get employed in the UK, writes Cristian Gherasim in Bucharest.

Truck drivers are now in demand as around 10,000 of them, many from Eastern Europe, lost their jobs following Brexit and the Covid pandemic. But it’s not only truck drivers who are needed, the hospitality industry is also in a tight corner as it also relies on workforce coming especially from Eastern Europe and the new EU member states.

Hotels and restaurants are now faced with the possibility, that once the COVID restrictions are fully lifted there would be no staff left to tend to their customers.

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According to several logistics companies in the UK, almost 30% of them are looking for truck drivers, a field of work that has attracted many Romanians over past years, but which now is struggling to meet its workforce needs.

Many of those leaving UK said that less than favorable working conditions weigh heavily in their decision to return home. Some even mentioned cumbersome travel conditions, including extensive wait times in the airports due to Brexit.

Those who do not wish to return to their home countries say that despite harsher working conditions, their still prefer UK over their home countries.

Truck drivers are not the only ones whose lives have been affected by the pandemic and Brexit. The UK's decision to leave the European Union also affected students, and some chose to return to their country with the onset of the pandemic. Due to the government's decision not to allow those who leave for a period of more than six months to keep their residency status, some students refrain from returning to their home country.

For students, the pandemic meant moving courses online. Many have chosen to continue their studies at home.

Several among UK entrepreneurs are calling on the government to implement a work visa program for workers coming from various European counties. According to a study conducted earlier this year by the Center for Excellence in Economic Statistics of the Office for National Statistics, the British national institute of statistics, 1.3 million foreign workers have left the country since the beginning of the pandemic. The city of London alone has lost 8% of its population, approximately 700,000 workers coming from EU member states.

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