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Definition: Social chapter from Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

The part of the Maastricht Treaty that dealt with social policy, and in particular workers' rights and welfare, and that among other points recommended a minimum wage. Its basis was the so called social charter, signed in December 1989 by 11 European Union member states.


Summary Article: Social Chapter
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Chapter of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union relating to social policy and workers' rights. It required European Community (EC) member states to adopt common social policies and was intended to implement the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights, which was adopted by 11 EC member states, but opposed by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, at a summit meeting in Strasbourg in December 1989.

In the face of continued UK opposition, member states were given freedom of choice over whether or not to adopt it; only the UK declined to sign up to it at the time. However, Tony Blair's Labour government signed in 1997.

The Community Charter was originally proposed by the European Commissioner for Social Affairs and Employment, Vasso Papandreou, and presented at a summit meeting in Madrid in June 1989, where it was described by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher as a ‘socialist charter’. Rights to be guaranteed by it included free movement throughout the EC; ‘equitable’ remuneration; a maximum number of hours per working week; free association in trade unions and collective bargaining; professional training; sex equality; minimum health and security provision; employer–employee consultation and participation; a minimum working age of 16; minimum pension rights; and protection for disabled workers.

At the December 1991 summit in Maastricht, Thatcher's successor, John Major, spoke out against the Social Chapter (which embodied Papandreou's original Charter) and, after a prolonged debate, persuaded the other 11 leaders to make it an optional clause within the final version of the treaty, allowing member states to adopt it individually. It was on this basis that the UK Parliament finally ratified the Maastricht Treaty.

Although several provisions in the original Charter, such as sex equality and health and safety provision, were already enshrined in British law, the Conservative government objected – more on philosophical than practical grounds – to the imposition of such elements as maximum working hours, collective bargaining, employer–employee consultation, and minimum pensions.

The European Court of Justice stamped on the UK's objections and ruled that the EC directive on working time was legitimate European health and safety legislation in November 1996. The EU directive, to which Britain had been opposed since 1994, included a maximum of 48 working hours a week and three weeks' paid holiday for all employees, rising to four weeks in 1999.

The roots of the Social Chapter lie in the European Social Charter, signed in October 1961 by the members of the Council of Europe, to protect the rights to work, to just conditions of work, to safe and healthy working conditions, to freedom of association, to social security, and to benefit from social welfare services. It was revised in 1996. The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) monitors compliance in the states that are party to the charter.

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