Amendments to EU Charter allay CBI fears

The Confederation of British Industry has said that it "can live with" the final draft of the EU Charter of fundamental rights published by the drafting Convention on 2 October 2000, having been strongly critical of earlier drafts, particularly as regards their references to strikes and consultation.

Amendments included in the final version of the draft EU Charter of fundamental rights adopted on 2 October 2000 by the drafting Convention (EU0010273N) proved sufficient for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to signal its acceptance of the proposed wording. Concessions secured by the UK government's representative at the final meeting of the drafting Convention on 25-26 September were welcomed by the CBI. Susan Anderson, the organisation's director of human resources policy, said in a statement: "Nobody should pretend that this draft is perfect, but the government has fought hard for business and come up with a result we can live with."

The CBI and other employers' organisations had been strongly critical of earlier drafts of the Charter to emerge from the Convention and the UK government had also sought the dilution of the charter's wording. The CBI's reaction to the first full draft of the charter, published in late July 2000 (EU0008268F), was that it was "totally unacceptable". The CBI was also "extremely disappointed" with a revised draft of the charter, published in Brussels on 21 September, warning that it "included language that goes beyond existing legal rights" and would "create confusion and uncertainty for employers".

The CBI was particularly concerned about references to the right "at all levels" to take strike action, which the CBI said "[raised] the possibility of cross-border industrial action". It was also worried about the wording on workers' right to information and consultation which the draft again said was to apply "at all levels". CBI officials expressed concern that such a broadly defined right would put pressure on countries, including the UK, opposed to the draft EU Directive on national information and consultation rules (EU9812135F). The Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) submitted broadly similar comments to the drafting Convention, including criticism of the draft's unqualified right to protection against unjustified dismissal, which the EEF argued was inconsistent with existing UK law.

However, at the final session of the drafting convention on 25-26 September it was agreed to amend the wording of Article 27 to specify that the right to information and consultation applies "at the appropriate levels". A similar change was made to Article 28 in respect of the right to take strike action. The rights to information and consultation and to strike are both specified to be subject to Community law and national laws and practices. This qualification has now also been applied to the right to protection against unjustified dismissal in Article 34.

UK government representatives regard these and other changes in the final draft of the Charter as a positive outcome for their lobbying efforts. Conservative Party MP s, however, said that the government should veto the Charter as it would lead to further EU social regulation and damage labour market flexibility in the UK. For its part, the Trades Union Congress has supported the inclusion of "clear and enforceable social and trade union rights" in the Charter, which it argues should be incorporated into the EU treaties.

The draft Charter was due to be considered at the Biarritz European Council in October 2000, and final adoption is expected at the Nice summit in December. The UK government has been seeking to ensure that the Charter has declaratory status only, rather than being incorporated into the EU treaties. The CBI has urged ministers to "stand firm against the campaign for a legally binding Charter" which it argues would "create serious legal uncertainty".

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