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On 3 March 1997 the UK's second largest general trade union, GMB, and the
German chemical workers' union IG Chemie-Papier-Keramik signed a unique
agreement on joint union membership. The agreement offers members of both
organisations, when working in each other's countries, the same support and
advice enjoyed by their own members.
Over the past decade there has been increasing concern among the institutions
of the European Union about the rising tide of racism across the member
states. In a recent address to a conference on combating racism organised by
the ETUC, social affairs commissioner Padraig Flynn highlighted the
importance of the fight against racism in "achieving improved working
conditions, creating jobs, improved industrial relations, the use of human
resources to the best possible effect, social justice, equal opportunities,
wealth and tolerance".
The UK has been the main recipient of Toyota's European investment so far, at
its plant in Derby. If the UK were to lose the new investment to France, it
would be a huge blow to the Government which recently had to "rebuild some
fences" after the company announced in February 1997 that it might switch its
investment elsewhere in Europe if the UK did not join the single European
A working group set up by the Standing Committee of the European Central
Banks' Trade Unions met in Ferreira do Zêzere in March, and issued a
declaration relating to the rights of workers involved in the production and
circulation of the Euro.
On 5 March 1997, the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, informed the
political parties and social partners about the report drawn up by the
"Commission for macroeconomic compatibility of social expenditure", a
committee of experts established by the Government and chaired by Professor
Paolo Onofri. The proposals for reform deal with all the key elements of
public spending: healthcare, public assistance, and, of particular interest
for the industrial relations system, pensions and labour market policies.
This document drew critical reactions from the trade union confederations,
while the evaluation from the Confindustria employers' confederation was
In November 1996, the UK Government failed in its attempt to have the 1993
Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC)
- which lays down specific requirements concerning weekly hours, holidays,
shifts and other patterns of work - annulled by the ECJ. The DTI launched
consultations with business organisations on implementation of the Directive
in December 1996, and the process was completed in March 1997. The DTI is now
analysing the responses, but is unlikely to produce the results until some
time after the 1 May general election.
The Government has published a working document, entitled "Maritime and ports
policy at the approach of the 21st Century", for public debate. In the
document it proposes a number of measures to deregulate dock work, and the
National Federation of Dockers' Unions has criticised the lack of prior
dialogue and is opposing the new proposals.
In the new collective agreement in the Dutch building industry, signed in
March 1997, a relatively large pay increase has been matched by a degree of
increased flexibility regarding the use of temporary employment agency
workers and the rules governing working hours.
At the beginning of March the first steps were taken towards the creation of
the first "European super union". One of Britain's biggest trade unions, the
General, Municipal and Boilermakers' Union (GMB), signed a joint membership
agreement with the German chemical workers' union. The deal between the GMB
and IG Chemie-Papier-Keramik means that 1.8 million workers will be entitled
to joint membership. Although the two unions may not provide the same
services, UK workers in Germany can expect legal advice, support from
representatives, and training facilities, while German workers in the UK can
expect legal advice, health and safety information and financial benefits
(Record DE9703206N ).
Legislative changes have been introduced affecting "atypical" work under the
Contracts of Employment Act, the Study Leave Act and the Occupational Safety
Act. The changes came into force at the beginning of February and they aim to
bring the legal status of persons in such work closer to the status of
persons under a regular employment contract.