Social partners sign agreement on continuing vocational training

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In May 2003, the UEL employers' organisation and the OGB-L and the LCGB trade union confederation signed an agreement aimed at facilitating access to continuing vocational training and thus better meeting the demands of the Luxembourg labour market. The agreement, some of whose provisions require implementation via legislation, includes new schemes for unpaid and individual training leave.

On 2 May 2003, the Union of Luxembourg Enterprises (Union des Entreprises Luxembourgeoises, UEL) (LU0011151F) signed an agreement on continuing vocational training with the two main trade union confederations - the Luxembourg Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (Onofhängege Gewerkschafts-Bond Lëtzebuerg, OGB-L) and the Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Lëtzebuerger Chrëschtleche Gewerkschafts-Bond, LCGB).

Statutory training system

According to figures published by the Ministry of National Education in 1998, by investing only 1.7% of total payroll costs in continuing training, Luxembourg enterprises fall a long way behind countries such as France and Germany (where employers spend around 3%). One of the reasons for this low percentage is the statutory position as regards vocational training. The main features of the legislation are as follows.

Role of the chambers

The law of 4 April 1924 provides for the representation of employers and workers at the level of their 'socio-professional category' through the establishment of various elected 'chambers of labour and trade ' (chambres professionnelles). The chambers of labour and trade (three for employers and three for employees) have specific competences in the field of vocational training; these include overseeing their members’ vocational education and organising evening classes designed to give them opportunities for continuing vocational training. The blue-collar workers' Chamber of Labour (Chambre du Travail), for example, has its own specialist training centre, while the Chamber of Private Sector White-Collar Workers (Chambre des Employés Privés) runs evening classes in areas likely to interest its members.

Educational leave

The law of 4 October 1973 on educational leave applies to all companies based in Luxembourg, with all expenses arising borne by the state. It has the following aims:

  • to enable people in work to complement their vocational training by attending official adult study courses, and to run training schemes and educational activities for young people;
  • to provide civic and social education for young people; and
  • to give training and refresher training to youth workers and youth leaders working for youth groups and cultural and sporting associations catering mainly for young people.

Educational leave thus enables young people to participate in training schemes, study days, seminars, lectures and meetings, the programmes for which are approved by the minister with responsibility for youth affairs. This leave may be requested by young people living in Luxembourg who are under the age of 25 and in employment. The age limit does not apply to people who: need training as youth workers, or as managers of cultural or sporting associations; run training courses for youth leaders or in youth education activities; or enrolled on official adult education courses.

Educational leave lasts for a total of 60 days. It may not exceed 20 working days over a period of two years. It may be broken down into segments lasting at least two days, except where the training consists of a properly organised series of courses, each of which lasts just one day.

The minimum period of employment qualifying a worker to take educational leave is six months’ service with the same employer. Workers who take educational leave are paid according to the usual terms and conditions applying to annual holidays.

Continuing vocational training

Continuing vocational training has flourished considerably since 1 January 2000. Since that date, it has been subsidised by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training under a law relating to support for, and the development of, such training. This framework law provides all Luxembourg-based enterprises with financial incentives so that they themselves can provide continuing training to both staff and managers with a view to boosting productivity. Enterprises can opt for either direct financial assistance or tax breaks, as long as the money spent comes to 0.5% of total payroll costs and is spread over at least three years. Continuing training may be organised during or after working hours; in the latter case, half of the time given over to training counts as working time.

A Continuing Vocational Training Centre (Centre de formation professionnelle continue) was opened in 2000 for so-called 'traditional' jobs, under the auspices of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training.

Little vocational training has so far been organised by the social partners themselves, though exceptions include the following:

  • the collective agreement for the banking sector has set up a special vocational training scheme organised by the Association of Luxembourg Bankers (Association des banques et banquiers luxembourgeois, ABBL) within its own Banking Training Institute (Institut de formation bancaire). The Institute provides staff with initial training through special courses and continuing training;
  • in 2001, the Luxembourg Hospitals Alliance (Entente des Hôpitaux luxembourgeois, EHL) and sectoral trade unions agreed to establish a Foundation for Continuing Vocational Training (Fondation pour la formation professionnelle continue) in the hospitals sector (LU0103161N); and
  • on the basis of a collective agreement, a Building Sector Training Institute (Institut de formation sectoriel du bâtiment, IFSB) was set up in 2002, financed by a mandatory levy of 0.65% of total payroll costs on enterprises in the sector and aimed at addressing the shortage of skilled workers. (LU0210102F).

New agreement seeks to facilitate access

The agreement signed in May 2003 by UEL, OGB-L and LCGB seeks to adapt the statutory regulations on continuing training to the work environment. It contains adjustments to the current legal provisions, aimed at facilitating access to individual training. The agreement's various measures facilitating participation in training courses include a flexible organisation of working time, the development of part-time working and the introduction of a 'time-credit' scheme. However, the agreement seeks to go further down this road by encouraging enterprises not only to establish this kind of work organisation as far as possible, but also, in well defined circumstances, to introduce unpaid leave and individual training leave. Not all training will be eligible, with only training offered by a public or private establishment awarding certificates recognised by supervisory bodies (ie certain Ministries) being recognised.

The agreement will require a number of legislative changes. While the provisions on flexible working hours and unpaid training leave can be implemented easily by the government, the individual training leave scheme will need specific amendments to tax and social security law in order to obtain full legal force.

Unpaid leave

The idea of unpaid leave is rare in Luxembourg employment law. At present, it is rarely granted and in any event requires the agreement of the employer. The new agreement may therefore be seen as innovatory in the sense that, after two years’ service, employees will qualify for unpaid leave of a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of six months (with an accumulated maximum of two years) to undergo training provided by public or private institutions - such as high schools, universities, institutes of higher education, chambers of labour and trade, the Luxembourg Office for Productivity Growth (Office Luxembourgeois pour l’Accroissement de la Productivité, OLAP), the Banking Training Institute and the Building Sector Training Institute.

While workers are on unpaid training leave, their employment contracts are suspended, and they will return to their previous employment when the contract is reactivated.

The employer may refuse to grant unpaid training leave if:

  • the applicant is a senior manager, and the enterprise has fewer than 15 employees;
  • a significant proportion of the employees in a department is absent;
  • it is impossible to organise a replacement worker because of the specific nature of the work involved;
  • there is a shortage of labour in the employee's job; and
  • the work is of a seasonal nature.

Individual training leave

Under the new agreement, after being a member of the social security scheme for two years, an employee may request 20 days’ training leave over a period of two years, with a maximum of 80 days' leave in the course of their entire career. An employee may be granted one day’s leave for every 24 hours of training. The individual training leave is intended to be used for attending courses, sitting examinations, preparing for examinations and writing up reports.

The employer may turn down an application for individual training leave, if granting it has major repercussions that would be harmful to the running of the enterprise.

Leave is considered to be working time, and it is understood that the employer will provide the employees with pay compensation, which will then in turn be reimbursed by the state.

Commentary

Luxemburg has offered a number of continuing vocational training opportunities since at least 1973. It should, however, be noted that the law of 1973 is aimed above all at young employees. Moreover, this law has always been an instrument that has been managed by the Ministry of National Education, and the Ministry’s intervention has been required. Taking this leave has been tolerated, but it has not always been favourably looked on by employers.

The conclusion of the new agreement between the two largest trade union confederations and the largest employers’ association will throw a quite different light on this aspect of continuing vocational training. Unpaid leave, which is largely unknown in Luxembourg law and practice, will probably undergo considerable expansion and facilitate access to individual training. It will constitute a move directly in line with an ongoing demand from the employers for a more skilled workforce.

It is to be hoped that the agreement will be implemented soon. The government will have to amend certain laws, and the social partners will have to ratify the new rules in future collective agreements. (Marc Feyereisen)

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