EU-level developments in industrial relations and working conditions - Q1 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

18 februari 2015
Welz, Christian


Institutional developments

Institutional developments

The Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment, set up by a Council Decision of March 2003, is now recognised in Article 152 TFEU as an integral component of social dialogue at EU level. Following the institutional change brought about by the Lisbon Treaty to create the function of President of the European Council, the 2003 Council Decision establishing the Tripartite Social Summit needed to be revised. The twice-yearly Summit was held at the end of March 2014, at which representatives of employers, trade unions and EU institutions discussed a range of social issues. Overall, the Summit agreed on the need for further collective efforts to pursue sustainable economic growth, while ensuring social cohesion and quality employment. The Summit also took account of past actions and discussed future steps in the European Semester and the social partners’ role in strengthening the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union. The social partners also presented progress to date in implementing their joint work programme for 2012–2014, including the ongoing joint negotiations on employment. MEPs adopted the report on Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment drafted by MEP Csaba Öry (EPP, HU).

Labour-related legislation

On 15 January 2014, the European Parliament adopted changes to the public procurement directive that will make it possible for Member States to award contracts on the basis of more than just price. The amendments introduce a binding social clause that is meant to safeguard the application of collective agreements and decent working conditions. The revised directive obliges main contractors to provide information about the subcontractors, but still allows for both joint and several liability for subcontractors. The directive allows Member States to reserve contracts for health, social and cultural services in such a way that private companies cannot apply for them. The legislation will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. After this date, Member States will have 24 months to implement the provisions of the new rules into national law.

The European Commission published a communication entitled ‘For a European Industrial Renaissance’ in which it calls on the Member States to recognise the central importance of industry for job creation and growth, and to include competitiveness concerns across all policy areas. Member States need to mobilise to strengthen Europe’s industrial base and raise the contribution of industry to GDP to up to 20%.

Collective bargaining and social dialogue

The European Parliament adopted an initiative report on ‘Cross-border collective bargaining and transnational social dialogue’ (2012/2292(INI)) (July 2013, rapporteur Thomas Haendel (GUE, DE). The report requests the European Commission to consider the possibility of issuing a European optional legal framework to support transnational negotiations, and to set up mediation mechanisms to settle disputes linked to the enforcement of the agreements. In the meantime, the ETUC started developing an EU-funded project, in order to draft a trade union proposal for such an optional legal framework, by involving legal experts and affiliates, in particular European trade union federations

The European Commission's refusal to adopt a proposal for a Council decision to give legal underpinning to the agreement on health and safety signed on 26 April 2012 by the social partners in the European hairdressing sector has been the subject of criticism from the social partners in other sectors. This move was criticised by the social partners in other sectors – on 7 February by the employers' organisation for the private security sector (CoESS) – and on 14 February 2014 the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Sea Fisheries adopted a Resolution in support of the Agreement. The Resolution calls upon the EU Commission to respond positively to the request of the social partners in the hairdressing sector and make a proposal to the Council without further delay.

Conflicts and disagreements

On 25 February 2014, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) organised a demonstration in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg in support of calls for quality railway services. New proposals from the European Commission will lead to further liberalisation and fragmentation in the sector and the ETF stated that this has to be rejected because it will undermine the accessibility, affordability and quality of railway passenger services. It argues that enhanced competition will inevitably lead to cost-cutting measures that put increased pressure on working conditions and that employment categories of workers are in comparable situations (CJEU 13 March 2014, C-38/13, Małgorzata Nierodzik).

Other legislative developments

Employment status

The Council and the European Parliament on 27 February finally reached informal agreement on the text of the Directive which aims to regulate the posting of workers in order to limit abuses. The wording of the document remains largely unchanged from that adopted by the 28 Member States on 9 December 2013. Member States will have two years to transpose the directive into their national law. This informal agreement was subsequently approved on 18 March by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament by 30 votes to 11, with 3 abstentions. The text will be presented for definitive adoption at the April plenary session (14–17 April).

Non-standard working hours

On-call working remains under discussion within the context of the revision of the working time Directive. Following the social partners' failure to reach agreement on the revision of the Directive, due to issues such as the treatment of on-call working, the European Commission will continue to work on this subject. At present, the Commission is carrying out a detailed impact assessment, which will take full account of both social and economic aspects, building on preliminary studies and further analysis of the possible options and their foreseeable effects. The Commission will then take further decisions in the light of the results of this assessment.

Skills and training

On 10 March 2014, the EU Council of Ministers adopted a Recommendation on a Quality Framework on Traineeships. This aims to enable trainees to acquire high-quality work experience under safe and fair conditions, and to increase their chances of finding a good quality job. In particular, it calls on Member States to ensure that national law or practice respects the principles set out in the framework, and to adapt their legislation where necessary.

Work organisation, skills and learning

The European Commission is currently holding a public consultation on a European Area of Skills and Qualifications. The consultation runs from 17 December 2013 to 15 April 2014 and aims to collect the views of stakeholders on the problems faced by learners and workers with regard to the transparency and recognition of their skills and qualifications when moving within and between EU Member States, on the adequacy of the related European policies and instruments and on the potential benefits of developing a European Area of Skills and Qualifications.

Physical risk factors

On 20 February 2013, the EU Council of Ministers adopted a new Directive to improve protection of workers from risks linked to exposure to chemicals at the workplace. The new Directive amends five existing EU health and safety Directives on protection of workers from exposure to harmful chemicals to align them with the latest rules on classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals (Regulation (EC) 1272/2008). Member States now have until 1 June 2015 to implement the new Directive into national legislation.

Participation at work

On 14 January 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on employees’ financial participation (EFP) in companies’ profits. The resolution highlights the potential of EFP to ‘bring stability, development and growth while reducing risks of over-expansion leading to job losses’, especially if these effects were ‘enhanced by stable and functioning worker involvement institutions’. The Parliament is now encouraging the European Commission to present an independent impact assessment of a European EFP regime. Moreover, it has suggested that a set of basic guidelines be developed for successful EFP schemes.

Social protection

In late March 2014, the European Council of Ministers adopted a Decision authorising Member States to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention concerning fair and decent work for domestic workers (Convention No. 189). The Decision was proposed by the Commission in March 2013, and endorsed by the European Parliament. The Convention covers the following issues relating to domestic workers: equal treatment as regards compensation and benefits, information on the terms and details of their employment, protection against discrimination, decent living conditions, and easy access to complaint mechanisms.

On 27 March 2014, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal on the activities and supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision which does not envisage the introduction of new solvency standards for such institutions as was demanded by the social partners. The Directive should be implemented by 31 December 2016.

Workforce aspects

Undeclared work

On 29 January 2014, the European Commission launched the second-stage consultation of the European social partners on enhancing cooperation between Member States of the European Union on the prevention and deterrence of undeclared work. The document notes that the social partners do not wish to initiate a collective negotiation procedure at European level on this subject and outlines the Commission's proposals to strengthen the fight against this phenomenon.

Temporary agency work

On 21 March 2014, the European Commission issued a report on the implementation of Directive 2008/104/EC on temporary agency work in EU Member States. It found that all Member States and have in general implemented it correctly and applied its provisions in practice. However, the report also finds that more work needs to be done to ensure that the Directive fully achieves its goals. It highlights two areas in particular:

  • Some derogations from the principle of equal treatment allowed by the Directive may have been used in such a way as to prevent the application of the Directive from improving the protection of agency workers;
  • restrictions and prohibitions on the use of temporary agency work.

It states that although Member States have reviewed them as required by the Directive, and a few restrictive measures have been removed, in most cases Member States have maintained the status quo. In a number of Member States, the further removal of some restrictions and prohibitions is still being considered. The Commission will therefore continue to ensure that the Directive is correctly implemented in all EU Member States and that its goals are achieved.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of European correspondents. Further resources on industrial relations and working conditions can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and European Company Survey (ECS).

For further information, contact Christian Welz:

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