Parliament proposes amendments to draft temporary agency work Directive

At its plenary session on 20-21 November 2002, the European Parliament gave a first reading to the European Commission's proposal for a Directive on working conditions for temporary agency workers. It proposed a range of amendments to the proposal, in areas including the principle of non-discrimination against agency workers.

The European Commission issued a proposal for a Directive on working conditions for temporary (agency) workers in March 2002 (EU0204205F), seeking to ensure equal treatment for temporary agency workers and comparable workers in a number of areas. This followed the breakdown of EU-level social partner negotiations on this topic in May 2001 (EU0106215N). The proposal is subject to the co-decision procedure, under which the European Parliament (EP) may be consulted several times on the content and final agreement must be reached between the Council of Ministers and the EP.

The EP’s first reading of the text was given at its plenary session on 20-21 November 2002. The EP’s opinion, adopted after this first reading, makes a large number of amendments to the Commission’s proposal, including those set out below.

First, the EP seeks to modify the principle of non-discrimination as set out in the proposed Directive. The Commission’s text states that a temporary agency worker should be treated no less favourably than a comparable worker in the user undertaking. The EP opinion deletes the Commission’s definition of a comparable worker, stating instead that 'the basic working and employment conditions applicable to a temporary worker shall be at least those which apply or would apply to a worker directly employed by the user undertaking on a contract for the same duration, performing the same or similar tasks, taking into account qualifications and skills.'

One of the most controversial sections of the Commission’s proposed Directive is Article 5, which sets out the principle of non-discrimination, but also provides for a range of exemptions and derogations from this. The EP amendments would delete the original Commission proposal that this principle will not apply in the case of assignments of less than six weeks.

However, the EP calls for the insertion of a provision aimed at helping Member States for which the principle of equal treatment between temporary agency workers and user company workers, or the existence of permanent or collective agreements for temporary agency workers is not customary (essentially the UK and Ireland). The EP amendment would allow for an exemption from the application of the Directive to apply to these Member States for a period of five years, in the case of pay or specific pay elements for assignments of under six weeks within a reference period of one year 'as long as an adequate level of pay is provided from day one'.

The EP would, though, continue to allow exemptions to the principle of non-discrimination to be made by Member States if there is a permanent contract which guarantees payment. However, it states that this exception should apply only in the area of pay or pay-related elements. The EP would also allow collective agreements to derogate from the principle of non-discrimination, broadly following the Commission’s proposal..

The EP seeks to insert a paragraph obliging Member States to maintain or introduce restrictions or prohibitions on temporary agency workers being assigned to user undertakings or sectors where workers are engaged in collective industrial action. This was a point also made by the European Economic and Social Committee in its opinion on the text adopted in September 2002 (EU0211204F).

The text will now be returned to the Council of Ministers, which will adopt the proposal if it agrees with all the EP’s amendments. If it does not, it will adopt a common position on the text and return it to the EP for a second reading.

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