Luxembourg: Latest working life developments – Q2 2016

Changes in working time flexibility and demands for the revaluation of careers and qualifications in the health and social care sectors are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Luxembourg in the second quarter of 2016.

Reform of working time legislation

At a press conference on 27 April, , the Labour Minister, Nicolas Schmidt, presented the main changes in the organisation of working time duration, part of the revision of the PAN law (the law of 12 February 1999 on the implementation of the national action plan in favour of employment).

No agreement had been reached between the Labour Minister and the social partners during negotiations. The contentious issue was working time flexibility. Employers wished to have greater flexibility to extend the reference period over which working hours could be varied from one month to four. This demand was unacceptable to the trade unions, and they demanded a reduction in working hours through the introduction of a sixth week of paid leave. After the failure of tripartite discussions on 21 March, the government announced its draft proposals on 27 April.

The government wants to set the reference period for the calculation of average weekly working time at four months. Where a company wants to apply a reference period of more than one month, and where there is no collective agreement covering the issue, additional days off will be given to employees as follows:

  • 1.5 days for a period of reference period of between 1 and 2 months;
  • 3 days for a period of reference period of between 2 and 3 months;
  • 3.5 days for a reference period of between 3 and 4 months.

The proposals also specify maximum weekly working time of no more than 12.5% of normal working time duration for a reference period of between 1 and 3 months. For a reference period of between 3 and 4 months, the maximum weekly working time can be no more than 10% of normal work time. If the reference period is collectively agreed, this percentage can vary between 0% and 15%.

This proposal was not welcomed by the peak-level employer organisation, which argued that the number of days off is too high and that the scheme does not offer enough flexibility at company level. In a statement, the Union of Luxembourg Enterprises (UEL) said that tripartite social dialogue should only be used in response to a crisis. In all other circumstances, the government should consult social partners and take responsibility.

The main union, the Luxembourg Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (OGB-L), is strongly opposed to any increase in flexibility if working time is not also reduced. However, its strong position on the issue may have been influenced by the fact that its annual Congress took place at the beginning of July.

Demonstration for higher wages in the health and social care sectors

On 4 June 2016, thousands of employees from the health and social care sectors demonstrated in Luxembourg City demanding recognition of the value of their professional roles and qualifications. Protest organisers said that about 9,000 people took part while police estimated 6,500 participants. This unusually large demonstration occurred after fruitless discussions between employers and trade unions in the health and social care sector over pay rises and the recognition of qualifications.

The collective agreements for the health sector (hospitals) and the social care sector (care for children, disabled people, elderly people) both stipulate that the evolution of wages should be in line with the evolution of wages in the public sector. Trade unions are therefore demanding a rise in wages in line with the wage agreement concluded in the public sector in 2011 (a general wage increase of 2.2% and a one-time bonus of 0.9%). They also want recognition for a number of qualifications and this recognition to be reflected in pay scales. Employers are particularly opposed to this last demand, warning of the cost of such a revaluation of careers.

Following the 4 June demonstration, the government called a meeting of the Commission Paritaire ASFT (composed of employers, trade unions and government representatives) to discuss the financial impact of the revaluation of careers in the social care sector.

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