Social partners react to European agreement on part-time work

The social partners in the UK have been reacting to the European framework agreement on part-time work concluded on 6 June 1997, which aims to remove discrimination against part-time workers.

The European framework agreement on part-time work was formally signed on 6 June 1997 (EU9706131F) by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). The stated purpose of the agreement is to remove discrimination against part time workers, improve the quality of part-time jobs and facilitate part-time work on a voluntary basis. The European Commission will propose a Directive implementing the agreement to the Council of Ministers later this year.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has stated that, given the end of the UK's opt-out from the "social chapter", legislation for part-time workers is inevitable. Adair Turner, the CBI's director general, said that he believed the agreement represented the best deal on offer. The CBI insists that it remains committed to the idea of flexible labour markets, but that the new part-time agreement should not undermine existing flexibility. It also also acknowledges that most part-time workers already receive equal statutory employment rights.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) states that part-time workers are a valuable part of the workforce and that the agreement means that they will at last be able to enjoy the flexibility of working part time without fear of discrimination. The TUC believes that this is the kind of "flexibility with fairness" that offers advantages to both employers and employees. The TUC also acknowledges that Britain's most successful companies already give their part-time employees equal rights, arguing that this helps rather than hinders their business.

In the UK the agreement, once implemented, would give some 5.7 million part-time employees equal contractual rights and benefits with their full-time counterparts. While part-timers have the same statutory rights as full time workers to claim unfair dismissal and redundancy, they do not have equal contractual rights. The agreement would give them equal rights in terms of paid holidays, sick leave, occupational pensions, staff discounts and share options.

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