Individual employment relations - Q1 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

In the field of individual employment relations during the first quarter of 2014, there were interesting developments in terms of temporary agency work, parental benefits and maternity leave, ‘junk’ jobs and zero-hour contracts.

Developments in temporary agency work

In Estonia, the Centre of Applied Social Sciences conducted a study entitled ‘Transition of labour conditions in temporary agency work’. The study gives an overview, for 2013, of the regulation and use of temporary agency work (TAW) and the working conditions of people employed in it. It also analyses the transposition of EU directives into Estonian legislation. The data used for the study is gathered from range of sources:

  • national registers;
  • the European Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (Eurociett);
  • web surveys;
  • interviews with representativeness of temporary employment agencies;
  • interviews with representatives of user companies of agency services;
  • interviews with temporary agency workers.

The results show that the Directive 2008/104/EC on temporary agency work has been transposed entirely into Estonian law, while Directive 91/383/EEC (supplementing the measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of workers with a fixed-duration employment relationship or a temporary employment relationship) has been transposed only partly only. The study also showed that there are many challenges with regard to the operation of the area of agency work.

In France, a new scheme for permanent contracts for temporary agency workers (CDI intérimaire) took effect on 6 March. Concluded between temporary workers and temporary employment agencies, the CDI intérimaire contract covers two defined periods:

  • periods when the temporary worker is engaged on an assignment – when they receive remuneration at the rate equivalent to that normally paid by the user company ;
  • periods of non-assignment, during which they receive a guaranteed minimum monthly salary that must not be lower than the French national minimum wage.

During both these periods, the temporary employment agency can ask the worker to attend training courses. Social partners are seeking to conclude 20,000 such contracts for temporary agency workers over three years. 

In early 2014, the UK national Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) published a research paper entitled The effects of agency workers regulations on agency and employer practice. The paper suggests that the regulations have not had the effect of dampening demand for agency labour, but that new forms of contracting between agencies, user companies and temporary workers have emerged as a result of the directive and regulations. The ‘Swedish derogation’ has been used in some sectors, although the numbers of firms and agencies using this contracting model is still not clear. 

Parental benefits and leave & maternity leave

In Estonia, the Parental Benefits Act governs the amount of parental benefit paid out in cases where the parent is employed. An amendment to the act, implemented from 1 January 2014, formula ensures that it employment always pays; hence, the benefit is reduced proportionally. Furthermore, the rate of parental benefit increases. If the parent was not employed during the course of the year when the entitlement to benefit was established, parental benefit will be paid according to the base rate (which amounts to €320 in 2014).

In Ireland, social partners opposed the government’s tentative proposal of March 20014 to allow mothers share two of their 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave with fathers was opposed. The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) feels that the change would lead to increased costs and administrative difficulties for businesses. Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has argued that the two weeks’ leave for fathers should be in addition to the current 26 weeks’ leave for mothers, rather than being taken from it. The Department of Justice and Equality is also currently preparing legislation to consolidate all family leave, including maternity and parental leave, into a single piece of legislation, the Family Leave Bill.

In Luxembourg,  the Ministry of the Family and Integration also intends to reform parental leave. According to Corinne Cahen, Minister of Family and Integration, the present parental leave is not flexible enough: rather than being a tool of employment policy it should be a tool of family policy. 

In Norway, the parental leave quota reserved for the mother and father will be reduced. The former government had expanded these quotas, in an attempt to make fathers take a greater share of parental leave. The present government will, however, leave this to families to decide. From 1 July 2014 the quotas will be reduced – from 14 weeks to 10 for each partner. This will not affect the total period. Both employer organisations and trade unions have argued against this reduction.

The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) released its annual ‘Fathers’ Index’ in March 2014. Fathers have increased their use of parental leave in comparison to mothers. The increase from 2012 to 2013 was 0.7 %, which indicates that it would take 80 years before men and women would use an equal amount of parental leave. There are discussions on the implementation of a mandatory third month of parental leave for fathers.

Developments in types of contract

Poland: Debate on ‘junk jobs’

A lengthy debate on 'junk jobs' in Poland continued in the first quarter of 2014. ‘Junk jobs’ are temporary or civil law contracts (contracts not governed by labour law); it was proposed that the coverage of mandatory social security dues be extended to workers on such contracts. Following the European Commission's reply of 11 December 2013 to the complaint made by the trade union Solidarity with regard to improper application of Council Directive 99/70/EC (on the framework agreement on fixed-term work) in Poland, the issue on amending regulations on fixed-term contracts became a heavily disputed topic in the parliament. Even prior to the Commission's action, it had been decided that the total duration of employment on the basis of a fixed-term contract should be reduced to 24 months. According to the Yearbook of Labour Statistics for 2012, the number of workers on these contracts is high (over 1 million people) and growing (while the yearbook includes data only for 2010 and 2011, the figure almost doubled during that period).

UK: Incidence of zero-hours contracts

On 15 March, the UK government’s consultation on zero-hours contracts closed, having reportedly received more than 30,000 responses. The consultation was launched by the government in December 2013 and focused on two key issues: exclusivity in employment contracts and lack of transparency for employees. The government has said it will publish its response to the consultation ‘in due course’. In its submission to the consultation, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) expressed concern that government proposals on zero-hours contracts ‘will fail to stem the widespread exploitation of workers’, stating that zero-hours workers face low pay, underemployment, and job and income insecurity. In its comments, the Confederation of British Industry stated that such contracts play an important role in the UK labour market, enable businesses to respond quickly to changes, give more flexibility to workers and provide a stepping-stone into the jobs market. According to an Office of National Statistics survey in January– February 2014 of 5,000 businesses ‘there were around 1.4 million employee contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours, which provided work in the survey reference period of the fortnight beginning 20 January 2014’. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development  (CIPD) estimates that 3% of the UK workforce are on zero-hours contracts and argues that the Labour Force Survey (LFS) has underestimated the incidence of this type of contract in the past (for the period October–December 2013, the LFS has a figure of 583,000. In addition, both the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and CIPD argue that employers figures for zero-hours contracts are likely to be higher than the LFS figures, since – as the ONS argues – ‘employers may be more aware of formal contractual arrangements of their employees’.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of national correspondents. Further resources on individual employment relations can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and European Company Survey (ECS).

For further information, contact Christian Welz: cwe@eurofound.europa.eu

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