Employment policy debate focuses on working time

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A November 1997 orientation debate on employment policy in Luxembourg's Chamber of Deputies has prompted several motions. The most important of these urges the Government to work towards an agreement between the social partners that contains both the outlines of a framework law on working time and ways of gradually reducing working hours, to be negotiated through collective or company-level agreements.

An orientation debate on employment policy in Luxembourg took place in Parliament's Chamber of Deputies on 13 November 1997. The competent parliamentary commission, covering labour and employment, had previously held hearings with all the social partners (LU9711133N).

The positions of the social partners

The LCGB and OGB-L trade union confederations hold complementary views on employment policy, so when they were interviewed by the parliamentary commission on 15 October 1997, they opted for a joint approach. The main pillars of this approach are in three stages:

  1. the general across-the-board introduction of the eight-hour day/five-day week, and the abolition of all exceptions;
  2. a transitional period to enable the social partners to negotiate flexible arrangements or shorting working hours; and
  3. a reduction in the working week to 35 hours over the next five years.

The employers are strongly opposed to shorter working hours on the grounds that the Luxembourg labour market is beset by "over-employment". They also point out that the number of jobs has risen steadily over the last decade and that cross-border workers account for over a third of the total workforce: "A unilateral reduction in working hours would not create jobs, and would be particularly ineffective in the specific context of the Luxembourg labour market."

Debates in the Chamber of Deputies

After listening to all the social partners and representatives of the various Ministries involved, the parliamentary commission noted that at present there is effectively no dialogue between the social partners on new ways of organising working time. The Commission's conclusion was that such dialogue was essential if there was to be any progress in the direction of creating jobs. In this connection, the commission's president appealed to the social partners to use a future tripartite meeting to agree on new ways of adjusting working time; if they are unable to reach a solution by consensus, new guidelines will have to be introduced by law.

In the course of the discussions, the Minister of Labour and Employment stated that he would be "allergic to infections coming in from abroad". He could therefore think of no reason why Luxembourg should go down the road of reducing the working week from 40 hours to 35. The Government would, however, agree to draft a "framework law on the reorganisation of working time". Consideration could only be given to reducing working time if the labour market situation improved. The Government would be prepared, for a transitional period, to cover social charges in respect of jobs created by reductions in working hours fixed by the social partners in a collective agreement.

Motions put forward in the Chamber of Deputies

The orientation debate on employment closed with the adoption of seven final motions. In the most important of these, the Chamber of Deputies:

  • urged the government to instruct the National Service for Statistics and Economic Studies (Service National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques, STATEC ) and the General Social Security Inspectorate (Inspection Générale de la Sécurité Sociale, IGSS) to come up with a study on the structure of employment creations;
  • called on the Government to use an early tripartite meeting to evaluate current measures aimed at reintegrating job-seekers into the labour market (some of the instruments may have to be adapted as appropriate);
  • pressed the Government to extend the basic training provided for those who have benefited least from the education system, and preserve and re-examine the Certificate in Training in Technical and Vocational Training (Certificat d'initiation technique et professionnelle, CITP);
  • wants to see legal backing given to the establishment of a pool of educators to train unemployed people; and
  • invited the Government to set up an interministerial unit to ensure permanent cooperation between the services of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training and those of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and collaboration between these two Ministries and the Ministries of the Economy and the Middle Class.

In its seventh and final motion, the Chamber of Deputies argued for the introduction of a framework law providing for the following:

  • a 40-hour working week across the board;
  • a positive flexibility in working time, together with a reduction in working hours to be negotiated by the social partners in a collective agreement, providing that this reduction leads to the recruitment either of registered unemployed people or of job-seekers registered with Employment Administration (Administration de l'Emploi- ADEM );
  • new ways of adjusting and organising working time;
  • state aid in the event of the social partners reaching an agreement whereby working hours are reduced and either new workers are taken on or staffing levels are maintained at their current level; and
  • instruments for monitoring and evaluating the impact that negotiations involving the social partners have on employment and payroll costs.

Lastly, the Chamber of Deputies asked the Government to ensure that the issue of adjustments to, and reductions in, working time appears as an item on the agenda of the next meeting of the Tripartite Coordinating Committee. Deputies also called on the Government to work towards an agreement between the social partners on the outline of a framework law and on ways of gradually reducing working hours to be negotiated through collective agreements or company-level agreements.

Commentary

Given its healthy position in labour market terms, Luxembourg could well be one of the last countries in which the 40-hour week bastion will fall. However, there is every hope that the social partners will be able to reach an agreement in the near future on funding shorter working time through greater flexibility or annualised hours. (Marc Feyereisen, ITM)

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