Negotiations on fixed-term contracts commence

Following the decision by the central EU-level social partners to enter into negotiations on the rights of workers on fixed-term contracts, the parties outlined their priorities in an initial meeting on 23 March 1998. The second meeting took place on 21-22 April.

Following the decision in December 1997 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) to open negotiations on the rights of workers on fixed-term contracts (EU9802183F), the first meeting of the negotiating group took place on 23 March 1998.

Negotiations are being undertaken following the procedures set out under Article 4 of the Maastricht Agreement on Social Policy and follow the successful conclusion of similar negotiations on part-time work. These culminated in the formulation of a framework agreement in June 1997 (EU9706131F), which was implemented through a Community Directive in December 1997 (EU9712175N). In the framework agreement on part-time work, the social partners had declared their intention to consider the need for similar agreements relating to other forms of flexible work. They subsequently reaffirmed this intent in their joint contribution to the November 1997 Luxembourg Employment Summit (EU9711168F).

In the opening meeting of negotiations on 23 March 1998, Jean Lapeyre, deputy general secretary of the ETUC and leader of the trade union negotiators, stressed what he saw as the need to sign a good-quality agreement, in terms of its contents: "This is not a matter of simply copying the agreement on part-time work. We need to establish the circumstances in which fixed-term contracts are justified and the conditions under which they may be concluded."

ETUC underlined the perceived need for provisions to prevent existing jobs from being transformed structurally into insecure jobs. According to ETUC, the conditions under which such contracts may be used can be discussed on the basis of three criteria: maximum duration; the number of times a fixed-term contract can be renewed; and the objective reasons which may lead, through a collective agreement, to the determination of the duration and number of renewals.

ETUC stressed its view that, despite the increase in fixed-term contracts in a number of Member States, they should not be promoted, but rather made acceptable from a social point of view and regulated. Representatives of employees see no evidence that the extension of insecure employment has led to an increase in employment. On the contrary, it is argued that studies have shown the increase in the use of fixed-term and temporary contracts to be significantly linked with worsening working conditions and the number of industrial accidents.

Mr Lapeyre concluded that ETUC was seeking a "reasonable framework agreement, but not to the detriment of the situation of workers, by worsening their working conditions and increasing job insecurity".

The second meeting of the negotiating group took place on 21 and 22 April 1998.

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