Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

News 26/03/2020

Recent social policy developments in Cyprus, Spain and Latvia

Four new Flash Reports prepared by the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) are now available and provide information on the new healthcare system and the momentum towards a national minimum wage in Cyprus, the Spanish National Strategy against Energy Poverty 2019-2024 as well as the role of the judiciary in social policy-making in Latvia.

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  • Since last year, the healthcare system in Cyprus is being transformed into an integrated national health service with universal coverage. Data from the first eight months of the new system are encouraging: the climate of conflict that prevailed about a year ago has been replaced by the willingness of all stakeholders to cooperate. With the new system, which has significant advantages over the old one (universal coverage, easier access to doctors and relatively low co-payments), Cyprus is better prepared to handle the COVID-19 crisis situation. The extent to which it will be able to meet the needs of the pandemic will depend on the growth rate of new cases, the resilience and availability of health professionals, and the overall coordination and management of the crisis by the government.
  • In Cyprus, collective bargaining leads to non-binding minimum salaries for 180 occupations in the unionised sector. In the non-unionised sector, legally binding minimum wages exist. An agreement in the unionised hotel industry introduced legally binding wage minima which the sector has applied since January 2020. The time seemed ripe to set up a national minimum wage framework, but because ofCOVID-19 and the recession it will trigger, the process is likely to be delayed.
  • The Spanish National Strategy against Energy Poverty 2019-2024 contains structural measures that combine the right to energy with maximum energy efficiency. The strategy has been widely endorsed and will be implemented on the basis of annual operating plans. Its financing is public-private and its success will require the cooperation of the various public administrations. The strengths of the strategy include greater visibility for the problem of energy poverty, the commitment to ensure a minimum vital supply, and a structural policy approach that links the reduction of energy poverty to better access to housing. With the new government formed on 12 January 2020, the first operational plan for 2020 is pending approval.
  • In Latvia, there are currently five cases on the adequacy of social benefits pending before the Constitutional Court. They concern the unacceptably low social protection standards. The cases were initiated by the Latvian Ombudsman and the Supreme Court in 2019 and 2020 who argue that such low standards are not in line with the country’s Constitution and with the articles of the European Social Charter. Whatever the Constitutional Court verdicts, the legal arguments used to question the adequacy of social benefits may help bring about long-overdue changes in the country’s social protection system.

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