Employment Council discusses opposition to regulation on collective action

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met in Luxembourg in June 2012 and discussed a range of issues, including the negative response from 12 Member States to a proposed regulation on the right to collective action, linked to a proposal on the enforcement of the posted workers directive. Their objections have triggered the ‘yellow card’ procedure, meaning that the draft regulation must be reviewed. Progress on EU employment policy, health and safety issues, demographic challenges and gender equality were also on the agenda.

Posting of workers

Ministers at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) at a meeting on 21–22 June 2012 (231Kb PDF) took note of a progress report (135kb PDF) on the new proposal on enforcement of the posted workers directive and a linked regulation on the right to collective action, issued in March 2012 (EU1204011I).

The overall assessment on the new draft directive from ministers was positive, with delegations recognising the added value of the proposal and having positive views on its overall objectives, which centre on clarifying and improving the implementation, application and enforcement of the 1996 posted workers directive (96/71/EC).

However, some reservations on the regulation had been expressed by national delegations during meetings of EPSCO’s working party on this issue. The regulation essentially confirms the fundamental right to collective bargaining and to take collective action, including the right to strike. It stresses that neither the right to take collective action nor the freedom to provide services take precedence over each other. It also sets out a new alert mechanism for industrial conflicts in cross-border situations.

This proposed regulation on the right to collective action is subject to Article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (1.41Mb PDF), and therefore requires unanimity in the Council and the consent of the European Parliament. It also requires the Commission to draw the attention of national parliaments to the proposal. The Commission has done this, and, by the time of the EPSCO meeting, had received reasoned opinions from 12 national parliaments, arguing that the regulation was not compatible with the principle of subsidiarity. This has triggered the so-called ‘yellow card’ procedure and the Commission will now review the proposal and decide to either maintain, amend or withdraw it. The future of this regulation is therefore at present unclear.

Employment policy

Ministers also held a debate about the Europe2020 Strategy and the European Semester process, and then approved the employment-related aspects of the country-specific recommendations (CSRs), which are issued to Member States under the European Semester process. Ministers acknowledged the fact that the economic climate is difficult, but stressed that Member States need to focus on areas such as increasing employment rates and participation, increasing investment in relevant skills and qualifications, more efficient active labour market policy and work incentives, and inclusion strategies for the most vulnerable groups.

Electromagnetic fields

Ministers took note of progress on a new directive on health and safety for workers who may have been exposed to electromagnetic fields. The proposal was issued by the Commission in June 2011 to amend the existing directive 2004/40/EC (148Kb PDF), which never came into force due to problems with its implementation.

The current text has been under consideration for almost a year and has broad support from national delegations. Progression of this was one of the priorities of the Danish Presidency during the first half of 2012 (EU1201021I). Further work on this is expected under the Cyprus Presidency during the second half of 2012.

Equal treatment

EPSCO heard the progress of the proposed directive on equal treatment, issued in July 2008, which aims to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in a range of non-employment areas such as social protection, including social security. During the Danish Presidency, the focus for work on this proposal has been on age discrimination. Overall, ministers noted that more work needs to be done.

Other issues

Ministers reached agreement on a partial general approach on a regulation on the EU programme for social change and innovation, launched in February 2012 (EU1205051I). This programme will integrate three existing Commission-managed programmes; PROGRESS, the European employment services EURES and the European Progress Microfinance Facility.

Ministers also discussed a proposal on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), under which the Commission proposal foresees maintaining the fund during the financial framework period from 2014 to 2020 as a means of expressing solidarity during the ongoing crisis.

A 2012 Social Protection Committee report (3.78Mb PDF) on pension adequacy over the period from 2010 to 2050 was endorsed by ministers. The aim of this report is to boost the EU’s capacity to review the adequacy of pension systems in the context of Europe’s ageing population. Linked to this issue, ministers also adopted Council Conclusions on responding to demographic challenges (139Kb PDF) through enhanced participation by all in the labour market and society.

Finally, ministers adopted Council Conclusions on gender equality and the environment (136Kb PDF) which covers enhanced decision-making, qualifications and competitiveness in the field of climate change mitigation policy in the EU, based on a recent report (154Mb PDF) from the European Institute for Gender Equality.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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