Annual review of working conditions in the EU: 2004-2005
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Quality of work and employment and the social partners
European social dialogue
Framework agreement on work-related stress
In autumn 2003, the European Commission asked the European social partners to formulate a plan to combat stress at the workplace (Social partners to work out a European stress code). In its Communication on the Community strategy on health and safety at work 2002-2006 (210Kb pdf), the Commission announced that it would open consultations with the social partners on the issue of stress and its effects on health and safety at work. In the EU social partner consultation on stress (156Kb pdf), the Commission states that Community action in this area is possible under Article 137 of the EC Treaty. At present, there are no legal provisions specifically aimed at work-related stress, and action at Community level is seen as necessary to ensure a minimum level of protection for workers. European directives specifically address work-related stress and its prevention. In a general sense, provisions of the Council Directive 89/391/EEC are considered to include work-related stress and its causes.
Work-related stress is a topic within the joint multi-annual work programme (128Kb pdf) of the European level social partners. In October 2004, the European social partners signed a framework agreement on work-related stress (80Kb pdf). The objective of the agreement is to provide employers and workers with a framework to identify and prevent or manage problems of work-related stress. Stress is understood as:
'a state, which is accompanied by physical, psychological or social complaints or dysfunctions, and which results from individuals feeling unable to bridge a gap with the requirements or expectations placed on them. … Stress is not a disease but prolonged exposure to it may reduce effectiveness at work and may cause ill health.'
Work-related stress can be caused by various factors, such as work content, work organisation, work environment or poor communication.
Due to the complex causes and outcomes of stress, the framework agreement does not provide potential stress indicators. The agreement lays down a number of factors that should be analysed in order to identify if there is a problem of work-related stress:
- work organisation and processes (e.g. working time arrangements, degree of autonomy, match between workers’ skills and job requirements, workload);
- working conditions and environment (e.g. exposure to abusive behaviour, noise, heat, dangerous substances);
- communication (e.g. uncertainty about what is expected at work, employment prospects or forthcoming change);
- subjective factors (e.g. emotional and social pressures, feeling unable to cope, perceived lack of support).
Responsibility for determining the appropriate measures rests with the employer if a problem with work-related stress is identified, or if action is required to prevent, eliminate or reduce stress. Workers have a general duty to comply with measures determined by the employer.
The agreement gives some guidance regarding measures to prevent, eliminate or reduce problems of work-related stress. It includes a clause on monitoring the implementation of the agreement, and on providing annual interim reports in the first three years, in addition to a full report in the fourth year.
European social dialogue at sectoral level
Skills development and training
Training and skills development is an issue in social dialogue at sectoral level. In a number of sectors, joint initiatives have been implemented.
The social partners in the European hotel and restaurant sector, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) and the Employers’ Federation for Hotels, Restaurants and Cafés in Europe (HOTREC), agreed on guidelines for training and development (82Kb pdf), with specific consideration for SMEs.
The practical recommendations include: adapting continuing training measures to the real training needs of employees; involving management and employees in the planning, implementation and evaluation of training measures; and a recognition of acquired qualifications (see press release - 84Kb pdf). The recommendations are based on a joint study (522Kb pdf) by the social partners.
Cooperation between the EU-level social partners in the chemical sector, the European Chemical Employers’ Group (ECEG) and the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (EMCEF), resulted in a joint position paper on Education, vocational training and lifelong learning (102Kb pdf) in the European chemical industry. The aim is to improve company competitiveness and employability of the employees. A joint working group will carry out a more in-depth analysis of skills, qualifications, vocational further training and lifelong learning in the sector. A second pillar is the exchange of information and good practices.
In the European electricity sector, the EU-level social partners, the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (EMCEF) for the trade unions and EUROELECTRIC representing employers, agreed a joint statement (20Kb pdf) on future skills needs in the sector. This joint statement and the study build on a previous study on lifelong learning and joint statement on this topic adopted in 2003.
The framework of actions on future skills needs in the sector addresses policymakers in all areas. Actors at company level should be encouraged to develop models on competence management that consider both the needs of the business and the development of workforce skills. In the context of corporate restructuring, the implications for new jobs and skills requirements should be monitored. Steps to develop mainstreaming action plans for equality and diversity in recruitment, complemented by appropriate training, should be particularly encouraged. The electricity sector social partners agreed to evaluate the outcome of the framework of actions in 2007.
In the insurance sector, talks about lifelong learning broke down in May 2004 (EU0409202N).
In the motor trades and car repair sector, the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF) and the European motor trades and car repair association (CECRA) , cooperated on a special European research project comparing skills and qualifications.
Working and employment conditions
In the call centre sector, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) and the pan-European trade union organisation, Union Network International (UNI-Europa), agreed on guidelines for customer contact centres (91Kb pdf). A charter (14Kb pdf) was drawn up, setting out broad principles covering minimum work and employment standards (19Kb pdf), and calling for: increased training and development; a work organisation that enables communication of changes in company policy and product development prior to implementation, to ensure employee participation in decision-making; and the provision of sufficient staffing.
The minimum standards cover principles on:
- working time and workload;
- pay and benefits;
- surveillance, electronic monitoring and privacy.
Occupational health and safety
As noted above, ETNO and UNI-Europa Telecom agreed on call centre minimum standards (19Kb pdf). These include detailed guidelines with regard to OHS covering:
- ventilation, lighting and heating;
- ergonomic design of telephone and computer equipment, chairs and desks, to avoid back strain and repetitive strain injury;
- protection for workers using visual display units, in order to avoid eyestrain and voice and hearing loss, including 10-minute screen breaks at least every two hours;
- protection against stress and bullying, recommendations that staff should not spend more than 60%-70% actually taking calls, performance targets based on providing high quality customer service, and protection from violence at work (abusive callers);
- general provisions relating to facilities and work environment.
Equal opportunities and diversity
EPSU/EMCEF and EUROELECTRIC, the EU-level social partners in the electricity sector, commissioned a report on equal opportunities and diversity (73Kb pdf) in the context of changing employment patterns in the sector, and considered the results in a joint seminar in December 2004. One of the principal findings is that, in the vast majority of companies, there was almost no evidence of mainstreaming. The prevailing approach is to introduce measures and practices relating to equal treatment.
The European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) and the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) published a brochure (700Kb pdf), aimed at encouraging the employment of young people and older workers (see press release (53Kb pdf) for further information).
UNI-Europa Commerce and EuroCommerce issued a joint statement on promoting employment and integration of disabled people (202Kb Word doc), in the European commerce and distribution sector.
Corporate social responsibility
EFFAT and HORTREC, the social partners in the European hospitality sector, have decided (97Kb pdf) to work together on CSR, and have signed (94Kb pdf) a joint initiative (335Kb pdf). The initiative explicitly includes SMEs (27Kb pdf). The CSR initiative covers the following key issues:
- equal opportunities and non-discrimination;
- working conditions and work organisation;
- fair pay;
- vocational and continuous training, and lifelong learning;
- health and safety;
In relation to working conditions and work organisation in particular, work-life balance and family-friendly working time arrangements are emphasised. The social partners condemn any form of illegal or undeclared work. Training should enhance the employability and professional experience of employees, and the acquisition of skills and competencies should be supported by comprehensive recognition schemes.
A number of the joint declarations, agreements and charters outlined above emphasise principles of employee involvement. Examples include:
- the call centre charter (14Kb pdf): employees should be involved prior to implementation of changes in company policies and product development;
- the EFFAT/HORTREC guidelines for continuing training (82Kb pdf): employees should be involved in the development, planning, implementation and evaluation of training measures;
- the joint statement on future skills needs in the electricity sector (20Kb pdf): employees should be involved in the cooperative competence management, considering the business needs and development of workforce skills;
- the EFFAT/HORTREC CSR initiative (335Kb pdf): employees should be involved in the discussion of education and training and consideration of the resulting proposals, as well as in discussions affecting OSH and the work environment.
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