Commission launches 2010 work programme

The European Commission issued its work programme for 2010 at the end of March 2010. The programme contains a range of social and employment policy plans, including a revision of the working time directive, a review of the posted workers directive and a possible initiative on paternity leave. It also contains measures designed to help the European Union move towards a low-carbon economy, along with measures going beyond 2010.

On 31 March 2010, the European Commission launched its 2010 work programme. The main measures relevant to employment and social affairs are summarised below.

Skills and competences

Developing on policy lines set out in its Europe 2020 strategy, the Commission states that it will launch, in the third quarter of 2010, an initiative entitled ‘An agenda for new skills and jobs’. The initiative is designed to help modernise labour markets, boost labour mobility and aid the development of skills and competences throughout a worker’s life, with a view to increasing labour market participation and enabling a better match between labour supply and demand.

Through this initiative, the Commission also hopes to ensure that competences are acquired and recognised through general, vocational, higher and adult education, in the form of a European Skills, Competences and Occupations (ESCO) framework.

Revision of working time directive

In the fourth quarter of 2010, the European Commission will issue a proposal to revise Directive 2003/88/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time, which will ‘draw the lessons from the ongoing consultation of the social partners to clarify and amend the existing legislation’. The Commission states that the purpose of this revision is to adapt the directive ‘to the needs of workers, businesses, public services and consumers of the 21st century’.

The revision will be based on a treaty-based, two-stage consultation of the EU social partners. The first stage of this initiative was launched in March 2010.

Review of posted workers directive

Moreover, the Commission will issue proposals to clarify the implementation of Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services.

There has been much debate about this directive, in light of European Court of Justice (ECJ) case law – primarily the Viking case (127Kb PDF) (EU0706029I, EU0605029I), the Laval case (137Kb PDF) (EU0801019I, SE0801019I, SE0706029I) and the Rüffert case (99Kb PDF) (EU0805029I). Debate has also been raised in this regard due to high-profile incidents, such as the dispute in early 2009 at the Lindsey oil refinery in the United Kingdom (UK0902019I). The European Commission states that any new initiative will:

‘clarify the legal obligations for national authorities, businesses and workers on the Directive’s implementation and ensure the same rules are universally applicable … improve the provision of information for firms and workers … improve cooperation between national authorities, ensure effective enforcement through sanctions and remedial action, and prevent abuse.’

Possible initiative on paternity leave

Following the Council of Ministers agreement on the revision of Directive 96/34/EC (166Kb PDF) on the framework agreement on parental leave concluded by the European social partners (EU1003059I), which also covers adoption leave, the Commission will take further steps to improve the legal and policy framework on reconciliation of work and family life. In this regard, it will also take into consideration ongoing negotiations on the revision of Council Directive 92/85/EC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. To this end, the Commission will carry out a cost-benefit study in 2010 with regard to a possible initiative on paternity leave.

Pensions strategy

The Commission intends to launch a Green Paper on pensions in order to ‘look at options for ensuring the sustainability and adequacy of pensions in the light of ageing, mobility patterns in Europe and the functioning of financial markets’. It envisages that this Green Paper, which will be launched in the second quarter of 2010, will be broad in scope, looking at a range of policy tools.

Restructuring and a low-carbon economy

The work programme contains a range of measures designed to help the EU move towards a low-carbon economy. As part of this initiative, during the third quarter of 2010, it intends to issue a Communication on ‘an industrial policy for the globalised era’. Among other things, this initiative will work with the social partners to deal with the anticipation and management of change, along with the social consequences of restructuring.

Action beyond 2010

The 2010 work programme also contains a number of longer term measures, going beyond 2010. In the employment and social affairs area, these include:

  • a possible updating of the EU pensions framework, depending on the outcome of the pensions Green Paper (see above);
  • a proposal to improve the protection of workers against the risk arising from exposure to electromagnetic fields, particularly in the healthcare sector;
  • the launch of a Communication on an EU disability strategy for 2010–2020;
  • a proposal to amend several directives with a view to including seafaring workers or vessels within their scope. This measure aims to provide seafarers with the same level of employment rights as on-shore workers. At present, a number of directives in the field of labour law currently exclude seafarers from their scope.

Simplification of legal instruments

In addition, the Commission intends to withdraw or simplify a number of legislative instruments. For example, in 2012, it will look at the possible simplification of the rules for setting up a European company and transferring its seat. Furthermore, in 2011 or 2012, it may revise, with a view to simplification, Directive 2001/86/EC supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees and Directive 2003/72/EC relating to employee involvement in a European cooperative society.


This year looks set to be interesting in terms of the review of key directives in the employment field. The European Commission’s emphasis is on better implementation of directives and the adaptation of their provisions to the modern world, within the context of stimulating European economic recovery and encouraging employment growth in the EU.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

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