EU Level: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016

Issues related to work–life balance, the launch of the public consultation on social rules in road transport and some developments in social dialogue are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in the European Union in the third quarter of 2016.

Developments from the European social partners

The trade organisation representing the employment industry in Europe, Eurociett, changed its name to the World Employment Confederation-Europe on 21 September 2016. At the same time it launched its White Paper on the Future of Work (PDF), which it described as an active contribution by the employment industry to the debate on the changing world of work.

Following the European Commission’s relaunch of social dialogue and the statement signed by the European cross-sectoral social partners, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union in June 2016, global union confederation IndustriAll Europe and the Council of European Employers of the Metal, Engineering and Technology-based industries (CEEMET) published a joint declaration on 19 September 2016 entitled How to promote a fit for purpose European sectoral social dialogue (PDF). In the declaration, the two bodies called for social partner autonomy to be fully respected, as well as for a renewed focus on the representativeness, mandate and capacity of the stakeholders involved, in order to ensure the legitimacy of their actions.

Fresh start to improving work–life balance

Following the EU social partners’ responses to the European Commission’s first-stage consultation on work–life balance (PDF) in July 2015, the Commission identified, in a second-stage consultation, with the social partners in July 2016, possible avenues for EU legislative action. The Commission also wanted to see if the social partners were willing to negotiate an agreement on maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, carer’s leave and flexible working arrangements. But according to reports in the press, it seems that the EU social partners decided they were not in a position to negotiate on this matter.

The European Parliament’s response to the Commission’s roadmap was the report on creating labour market conditions favourable for work–life balance, adopted in plenary on 13 September 2016. This report proposes various initiatives to modernise existing EU legislation. It calls for:

  • a revision of the Maternity Leave Directive to ensure that women are paid and covered by social protection for the duration of maternity leave;
  • the minimum duration of parental leave with adequate income replacement and social protection to be increased from four to at least six months (parents should be given the flexibility to decide whether to use the leave in parts, or all at once, and the age of the child when they want to take the leave);
  • an adequate level of income replacement to act as an incentive for fathers to take paternity leave;
  • the Commission to propose a directive on paternity leave with a minimum of a compulsory two-week period of fully paid leave, and a carers’ leave directive to enable workers to care for dependants and to give the carer adequate remuneration and social protection;
  • Member States to introduce ‘care credits’ through labour and social security legislation;
  • the Commission and Member States to develop and introduce initiatives such as a Child Guarantee.

 

Launch of public consultation on social rules in road transport

On 5 September 2016, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the enhancement of the social legislation in road transport. EU directives and regulations applicable to road transport whose objectives seek to:

  • protect transport mobile workers against adverse effects on their health and safety caused by inadequate working conditions;
  • improve road safety;
  • ensure fair competition between road transport operators.

The consultation is intended to provide the wider public and stakeholders with an opportunity to express their views on all elements relevant to an assessment of the functioning of the framework of social rules in road transport. The aim is to fill the data and information gaps so that the actual evaluation can be finalised and an impact assessment and legislative proposal prepared. This in turn is expected to lead to the launch of a Road Transport Initiative in 2017.

Recent rulings by the Court of Justice of the European Union

In case C-341/15, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) asserted in a judgement issued on 20 July that a worker has the right to financial compensation if they have not used up all or some of their right to annual paid leave, even if they have themselves ended the work contract in question. The CJEU recalled that the Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC provides that every worker is entitled to paid annual leave of at least four weeks and that this right is a particularly important principle of EU social law. It is granted to every worker, whatever their state of health. When the employment relationship comes to an end and paid annual leave can therefore no longer be taken, the Directive states that the worker is entitled to an allowance in lieu. This is to prevent the impossibility of taking leave, leading to a situation in which the worker loses all enjoyment of that right, even in financial form. The CJEU states that, in such a situation, the reason why the employment relationship has ended is irrelevant. Therefore, the fact that a worker terminates, at their own request, the employment relationship has no bearing on their entitlement to receive compensation.

The CJEU ruled on 14 September that Spanish legislation, by allowing the renewal of fixed-term contracts in order to cover fixed and permanent needs, despite the existence of a structural deficit of posts, infringes EU law. Case C-16/15 refers to a nurse, recruited at the University Hospital of Madrid. whose fixed-term contracts were systematically renewed seven times under fixed-term contracts of three, six or nine months, worded identically each time, so that she was employed without interruption from 5 February 2009 until 31 March 2013. The CJEU noted that the Spanish administration is under no obligation to create permanent posts and is permitted to fill posts by hiring temporary staff without any limit on the duration of the contracts or the number of their renewals. However, it followed that the insecure situation of workers was perpetuated. The CJEU decision on equal compensation for both temporary and permanent employees has given rise to other court cases. The Madrid Administrative Court has applied the CJEU decision, and the Spanish government is now working to bring national legislation in line with the ruling.

Outlook

One expected development in employment and social affairs in the next quarter is that the European Commission will present its work programme on 25 October. On 7 December, the Commission will issue the social security part of the Labour Mobility package, as well as some communications on health and safety at work. On 31 December, the Commission’s consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights will end. The feedback received will serve as the basis for the Commission’s final proposal for the Pillar early in 2017 and as a contribution to the work on the White Paper on the future of Europe’s economic and monetary union, expected in spring 2017.

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