Collective agreements setting labour standards
Collective agreements commonly determine employment standards in Member States’ industrial relations systems. They are also given this function – of setting labour standards at European level – in a number of EC directives, which represents a recognition of the autonomy of the social partners in regulating employment relations.
For example, in Council Directive 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time, Article 4 stipulates that: ‘Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that, where the working day is longer than six hours, every worker is entitled to a rest break, the details of which, including duration and the terms on which it is granted, shall be laid down in collective agreements or agreements between the two sides of industry or, failing that, by national legislation.’ The Directive allows collective agreements the task of defining ‘work involving special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain’ for the purposes of regulating night work (Article 8(2)).
EC directives may also allow collective agreements to substitute for EU labour standards. This is illustrated by the provision in Council Directive 94/45/EC of 22 September 1994 on the establishment of a European Works Council, or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings for the purposes of informing employees and consulting with them – the European Works Councils Directive. Article 13 excluded from coverage of the Directive situations where ‘there is already an agreement covering the entire workforce, providing for the transnational information and consultation of employees’. This allowed for substitution, but limited it to agreements already in existence on the date when the Directive came into force.
Council Directive No. 2002/14, establishing a framework for informing employees and consulting with them in the European Community confirms this priority, Article 5 provides: ‘Member States may entrust management and labour at the appropriate level, including at undertaking or establishment level, with defining freely and at any time through negotiated agreement the practical arrangements for informing and consulting employees.’
Article 5 appears to allow for the maximum flexibility in terms of the level of negotiation of different provisions, subject to the level being ‘appropriate’, and subject to respect for the principles set out in Article 1 of the Directive. The extent of permissible derogations from the provisions of the Directive by agreements between management and labour remains a sensitive issue.
See also: derogation.