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Just one week after the German social partners and Government found a
compromise on the future development of the German mining industry
(DE9703104F ) the Ruhr region (one of Germany's oldest industrial areas)
was again the focus of social conflict. On 18 March 1997 the second-largest
German steel producer, Krupp-Hoesch, announced plans for a hostile takeover
of its main competitor, Thyssen. Krupp-Hoesch made an offer to the Thyssen
shareholders to buy their shares for DEM 435 each, which was about 25% higher
than the current quotation on the German stock exchange. The president of
Krupp-Hoesch, Gerhard Cromme, stated that the acquisition of Thyssen would
create a lot of synergy effects, and could help to improve the international
competitiveness of the German steel industry.
In a recent report (/Social Europe/ 4/96, published in March/April 1997), the
European Commission assesses the progress towards the achievement of the
goals of the medium-term social action programme covering the period between
1995-7. This social action programme, adopted in April 1995, is seen by the
Commission as marking a breakthrough for new ideas and policies. The basic
concept underlying the programme is that social policy is a productive factor
facilitating change and progress, rather than a burden on the economy or an
obstacle to growth.
In April 1997, the Confindustria employers' confederation organised a
"virtual demonstration "of around 14,000 employers against a government
exercise to raise public revenue and reduce spending by a total of ITL 15,500
billion, deemed necessary to keep Italy's 1997 budget within the parameters
set by the Maastricht Treaty on European Union.
After a legal battle lasting more than three years between the management of
La Samaritaine (one of the five large Paris department stores), and its works
council and CGT union branch, two rulings by the highest court in the French
legal system on 13 February 1997, imposed the reinstatement of staff made
redundant, as part of the cancellation of a corporate "downsizing" procedure
(plan social). These rulings reveal the growing role of judges in the
supervision of redundancies.
Negotiations to revise the important collective agreement in Portugal's
banking sector are deadlocked. The industry's largest trade union will soon
hold its elections, but its socialist members are divided, while substantial
workforce reductions have been announced for the coming years.
On 19 March 1997, Parliament passed a reform of the Arbeitszeitgesetz(AZG,
Working Time Act) - see Record AT9702102F . This necessitated minor
changes to the Arbeitsruhegesetz(ARG, Leisure Time Act) which were also
passed on 19 March. However, the parliamentary Labour and Social Affairs
Committee, at the behest of the social partners, had introduced wording
allowing more flexibility than hitherto in regard to Sunday work, causing a
major public debate in its wake. In future it will be possible for the social
partners to conclude collective agreements permitting exceptions from the
general ban on Sunday work. They can only do so, the law states, if it is
necessary in order to avoid economic disadvantage or to safeguard employment.
As far as this is feasible, the collective agreement has to specify the
activities to be permissible on Sundays and the time allowed for them. Until
now it was not possible to grant specific exemptions from the ban on Sunday
work except if the technology required continuous production. The Minister of
Labour and Social Affairs could, however, permit a whole industry to work on
The Ministry of Labour has chosen 20 municipalities in different parts of
Finland to participate in new forms of working time organisation on an
experimental basis. Results so far have been favourable.
In recent years there has been increasing public concern over what is widely
viewed as the spiralling remuneration of company directors. At a time when
companies are keen to promote pay schemes based on performance, too often the
links between directors' pay and performance are viewed as non-existent. In a
report on director's remuneration publicised in March 1997, the IOD is keen
to set the record straight. It argues that, although it recognises that
directors' pay in the largest companies has been on average high, it has been
relatively modest for those directors who work for small to medium-sized
enterprises. In fact, the median pay increase for this group of directors in
1996 was 4%, the equivalent of the increase in average earnings for all
employees in that year.