Social Affairs Council adopts Directive to implement part-time work agreement

At its December 1997 meeting, the Labour and Social Affairs Council adopted Directives on the implementation of the framework agreement on part-time work and on the burden of proof in sex discrimination cases, as well as extending the Directives on European Works Councils and parental leave to the UK. Ministers also adopted the Guidelines for Member States' employment policies in 1998.

Meeting in Brussels on 15 December 1997, the Council of Labour and Social Affairs Ministers unanimously adopted a Directive to implement the framework agreement on part-time work concluded by the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE), the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) on 6 June 1997 (EU9706131F). This agreement aims to institute the principle of non-discrimination for part-time workers and to facilitate the development of part-time work on a voluntary basis and to contribute to the flexible organisation of working time in a manner which takes into account the needs of employers and workers. It also seeks to ensure that the equal treatment of part-time workers in terms of pay (pro rata) and working conditions is applied, unless there are "objective reasons" for differential treatment. Clause 5 of the agreement calls upon Member States to review any obstacles which may limited opportunities for part-time work and, where appropriate, to eliminate them.

Member States now have two years to implement the Directive (EU9707139N), either through national legislation or by agreement between the social partners. In exceptional cases, three years are allowed for transposition, particularly where implementation is through a collective agreement. Implementation in the United Kingdom is subject to a different route, which applies to the implementation of all other Directives adopted under the Maastricht social policy Protocol, to which the UK is not a party. While awaiting the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty, these Directives are to be extended to cover the UK by means of special Directives based on Article 100 of the EC Treaty. The December Council meeting saw the adoption without debate of two such Directives - extending the European Works Councils Directive (94/45/EC) and the Directive implementing the UNICE, CEEP and ETUC framework agreement on parental leave (96/34/EC).

The Council also adopted a resolution on the Guidelines for Member States' employment policies for 1998, which closely follows the draft presented by the European Commission (EU9712174N). Member States are now charged with drawing up national action plans on labour market policy, taking account of the content of these guidelines. The action plans have to be completed by 15 April 1998 and will be scrutinised at the European Council in Cardiff in June 1998.

The Ministers also adopted a Directive on the burden of proof in sex discrimination cases. This Directive places the burden of proof in cases of alleged direct or indirect discrimination on the defendant. This Directive is to be implemented by the Member States no later than 1 January 2001.

Other items on the agenda of the Labour and Social Affairs Council included debates on: the follow-up to the Davignon report on worker involvement in the European Company Statute (EU9705128N); and the White Paper on sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive (EU9707138N).

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