New EU directives on preventing injuries from sharp objects and on parental leave

In March 2010, a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council took place. One of the main outcomes of the Council meeting was the adoption of a new directive on preventing injuries from sharp objects among workers in the hospital and healthcare sector. The ministers also adopted the text of the new parental leave directive, increasing parental leave entitlement from three to four months.

On 8–9 March 2010, European ministers for employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs met in Brussels for a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) (see press release (120Kb PDF), 8 March 2010). Among the main outcomes of the meeting was the adoption of a new directive preventing injuries from sharp objects and a revised parental leave directive.

Directive preventing injuries from sharp objects

The ministers adopted the text of a proposal for a new directive seeking to prevent injuries from sharp objects such as needle sticks among workers in the hospital and healthcare sector. This directive will give legal effect to a framework agreement concluded on 17 July 2009 by the European social partners in the healthcare and hospital sector – namely, the European Hospital and Healthcare Employers’ Association (HOSPEEM) and the European Federation of Public Services Unions (EPSU) (EU0908029I). It follows an agreement (74Kb PDF) reached in principle on the text by ministers on 17 February 2010.

The new directive on preventing injuries from sharp objects aims to:

  • achieve the safest possible working environment for employees in the sector and protect workers at risk as well as patients;
  • prevent injuries to workers caused by all types of sharp medical objects, including needle sticks;
  • set up an integrated approach to assessing and preventing risks as well as to training and informing workers on this subject.

The directive is expected to contribute to achieving the safest possible working environment in the hospital and healthcare sector. Injuries caused by needles and other sharp instruments are one of the most common and serious risks to healthcare workers in Europe. According to healthcare experts, such injuries occur more than one million times a year, on some occasions with serious consequences and leading to serious diseases. Member States will have three years to transpose the provisions of the new directive into national law.

New parental leave directive

The ministers also adopted the new Directive (166Kb PDF) on parental leave, which implements a social partner agreement concluded in June 2009 (EU0907029I), revising the original 1995 agreement. The new directive will increase parental leave entitlement from three to four months and is seen as a tool for helping workers to balance work and family life more effectively. Member States will have two years to implement the new directive.

Other issues

The Council also debated a range of other social policy-related issues, as follows:

  • an exchange of views on the European strategy for growth and jobs, with a view to preparing the Spring European Council, which was due to take place on 25–26 March 2010. During these discussions, the new Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, László Andor, presented the European Commission’s Communication Europe 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (347Kb PDF). The ministers welcomed a proposed new EU-level target for employment, according to which 75% of the population aged 20–64 years should have a job by 2020. Many ministers emphasised the importance of women’s participation in the labour market if the European Union wants to meet this target and maximise economic growth;
  • an exchange of views on the preparation of the Tripartite Social Summit, which was due to be held in Brussels on 25 March 2010, before the Spring European Council. Discussions centred around the idea that the tripartite social summit would provide the opportunity to discuss with the social partners the short-term exit strategies from the economic crisis and the EU’s long-term challenges and policy responses to the crisis;
  • the adoption of conclusions (104Kb PDF) on the eradication of violence against women in the EU;
  • an exchange of views on the mobility and careers of researchers in the EU, based on conclusions (122Kb PDF) adopted by the Competitiveness Council on 2 March 2010. The conclusions aim to promote mobility, better working conditions and improved careers for researchers;
  • a discussion on youth employment policies, based on a Presidency background paper (89Kb PDF) on this topic. This discussion focused on trying to find the most effective way of reducing the impact of unemployment on young people, and whether specific employment indicators should be set for young people, as part of EU employment policy;
  • a first reading to a draft directive seeking to improve social protection for self-employed workers and assisting spouses. The draft directive aims to remove disincentives to female entrepreneurship and improve the social protection of assisting spouses, who often work as self-employed persons without enjoying the corresponding rights.

Commentary

This latest meeting of the EPSCO has moved forward a number of legislative instruments. The main outcomes are the adoption of a new directive aiming to prevent injuries from sharp objects among workers in the hospital and healthcare sector, which will improve health and safety for workers in this sector. At the same time, the adoption of the new parental leave directive will increase parental leave entitlement from three to four months. At least one of the four months cannot be transferred to the other parent and it is hoped that this will encourage fathers to take such leave.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

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