Health and safety of workers on fixed-term and temporary contracts

A report by the European Commission in July 2011 examines the impact of Council Directive 91/333/EC on improving the safety and health at work of those with a fixed-term or temporary contract. The report notes the relative lack of problems in transposing the directive by Member States but concludes that fixed-term and temporary workers are still comparatively more exposed to occupational health and safety risks than workers with other types of employment contracts.

On 22 July 2011, the European Commission issued a staff working paper (235Kb PDF) examining the implementation of Council Directive 91/383/EEC of 25 June 1991 on measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of workers with fixed term or temporary contracts. The working paper is based on:

  • two studies carried out on behalf of the Commission by independent experts of the directive’s implementation in EU Member States;
  • responses to a questionnaire sent by the Commission to social partners and Member States.

Transposition of the directive

According to the working paper, the directive has been transposed in all EU Member States, mostly by way of general legislation, regulations and administrative provisions. It notes that very few Member States have made use of collective agreements in order to implement the directive.

Overall, there have been very few legal difficulties or problems of interpretation. Nevertheless, the following types of problems have been identified.

  • Some implementing legislation does not set out clearly the obligation of the user company to inform the worker, before they begin work, of the risks that they face in their work. In some cases it is not specifically described, while in others the timing of the required warning is not clear.
  • Many Member States do not make explicit the obligation of a company to ensure that bodies responsible for its employees’ protection and the prevention of occupational risks are aware of the presence of fixed-term and temporary workers.
  • Many Member States have not implemented the provision that expressly obliges the temporary work agency to inform the worker, before their assignment, of the occupational qualifications required and the specific features of the job to be filled.

Practical effects of the directive

The working paper notes the overall lack of data on work-related accidents and illnesses for fixed-term and temporary workers. Nevertheless, the information available appears to confirm that fixed-term and temporary workers are still comparatively more exposed to occupational health and safety risks than workers on open-ended contracts.

Through the transposition of the directive, temporary and fixed-term workers are afforded the same legal rights as other workers. But from the point of view of the practical implementation of the directive, the working paper notes that it is ‘questionable whether this legal solution has always been sufficient to afford workers the same level of protection regarding health and safety at the workplace’. Questionnaire replies from Member States and social partners provide differing opinions on this matter. For example, trade unions tend to be more critical of transposition in many Member States.

Information about health and safety and relevant training are vital for fixed-term and temporary workers, because one of the main issues regarding health and safety of atypical workers is their inadequate integration in the company where they are working. The working paper found that fixed-term workers generally report no problems, but temporary workers are often not given sufficient information about the special occupational qualifications, medical supervision required or any increased risks that the job may entail.

Similarly, while no major problem is raised in the working paper over fixed-term workers, there are concerns about the quality of medical supervision provided to temporary workers.

Finally the directive provides that the person directing a fixed-term or temporary worker in an assignment is responsible during the duration of the work for the safety, hygiene and health conditions governing its performance. While many Member States have declared that this provision has been correctly transposed, some practical problems remain. For example, in some countries it is not always clear to the worker who should take responsibility for health and safety conditions.

Commission’s future actions

In the working paper’s conclusions, the Commission states that it will continue to pursue the objective of creating favourable conditions for improving the health and safety of fixed-term and temporary workers. This will be done by:

  • enforcing the Community acquis communautaire on occupational health and safety, applying it to all workers regardless of their type of contract;
  • implementing the Community strategy 2007–2012 on health and safety at work (70Kb PDF);
  • developing analytical tools and policies directed at the particular situation of fixed-term and temporary workers in the context of the future EU strategy on occupational health and safety;
  • carrying out a detailed analysis of the directive’s transposition in all Member States, particularly those provisions (access to training, information requirements) that could prevent health and safety risks.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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