Social Affairs Council extends part-time work Directive to the UK

In April 1998, the Labour and Social Affairs Council adopted a Directive to extend the December 1997 part-time work Directive to the UK. Other items discussed included the UK Presidency proposal on employee involvement in the European Company, and a tightening of the Directives on the protection of workers against asbestos.

Meeting in Luxembourg on 7 April 1998, EU Labour and Social Affairs Ministers adopted a new Directive extending Directive 97/81/EC on part-time work to the UK. The 1997 Directive (EU9712175N) implemented the framework agreement on part-time work concluded 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) (EU9706131F). A proposal to extend the application of this Directive to the UK - in the light of the UK Labour Government's agreement to abandon the previous administration's "opt-out" from the Maastricht Agreement on Social Policy (UK9704125F) - had been tabled by the Commission in February 1998. The UK's social policy opt-out is to be formally ended by the Treaty of Amsterdam (EU9707135F), which is currently going through the process of ratification in each Member State.

The UK Presidency's current proposal on the regulation of employee involvement in the European Company (EU9803193N) was also debated by Ministers. However, no general agreement could be reached, with the voting formula for the special negotiating body (SNB) presenting a particular sticking point. It has been argued (see EIS European Social Policy Bulletin, April 1998) that progress on this issue is now not likely until Austria takes over the Presidency from the UK in July 1998.

The meeting also failed to produce an agreement on a European Commission proposal to tighten up the existing EU Directives on protecting workers against the risks of exposure to asbestos. Spain, Portugal and Greece in particular continue to be reluctant to endorse an outright ban on marketing and using asbestos-based products, a ban which is already in force in many Member States.

The next Labour and Social Affairs Council of Ministers meeting will take place on 4 June 1998 in the run up to the Cardiff European Council meeting on 15 June, at which the Member States' national actions plans drawn up in response to the Commission's 1998 employment guidelineshttp://europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/elm/summit/en/papers/guide2.htm (EU9712174N) are to be discussed.

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