New European Commission work plan, working time and gender equality: EU-level developments in industrial relations and working conditions - Q4 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

This article presents some of the key developments and research findings on EU-level developments in industrial relations and working conditions during the final quarter of 2014. The European Commission's priorities for 2015, the economic outlook for Europe, and issues around working time are the main focus of this report.

Actors and institutions

European Commission work plan for 2015

In the European Commission work plan for 2015, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker proposed 23 initiatives dealing with matters such as youth employment, labour mobility, information exchange between national taxation authorities, and an action plan to combat tax evasion and tax fraud. Many of these proposals form the basis for the €315 billion investment plan targeting growth and employment.  

The European Commission will also work on the legislative backlog and withdraw around 80 directives next year as part of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme. Among the directives being considered for withdrawal are texts on industrial relations and working conditions, information and consultation of workers, occupational health and safety, and the 1997 directive on part-time work and fixed-term work. The outcomes of the assessments are expected during 2015. The outstanding directive on maternity leave will also be withdrawn if it is not adopted within six months. 

Latvian Presidency priorities

Latvia's Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2015 focuses on three priorities:

  • facilitation of EU competitiveness as a key to economic growth and jobs;
  • full exploitation of the digital potential of the European economy;
  • reinforcing the role of the European Union in the world. 

The main political dossiers in social policy and industrial relations can be summarised as follows.

  • Work will continue on the social dimension of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
  • A European platform will be created to enhance cooperation in the prevention and deterrence of undeclared work.
  • Amendments may be made to the directives on information and consultation of workers and on the proposal for a directive on seafarers.
  • Common strategies to improve safety at work and to reduce the rate of accidents at work will be identified.
  • Work will continue on the European Commission's proposal to amend the directive on measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding ('maternity leave'). 
  • Work will continue on the Commission's proposal for a directive to improve the gender balance on company boards.
  • A directive to implement the principle of equal treatment, irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, will be drafted.

Labour-related legislation

Directive setting out new transparency rules on social responsibility for large companies

On 29 September 2014, the Council of the European Union adopted a Directive for the disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large companies (295 KB PDF). The new measures will require certain large companies in the EU to draw up an annual statement concerning the following issues:

  • environmental, social and employee-related matters;
  • respect for human rights;
  • anti-corruption and bribery matters.

The statement must include a description of the relevant policies, outcomes and risks. Where a company does not have policies in place to address such matters, it will have to explain why.

The new measures are intended to strengthen the transparency and accountability of large companies, limit any undue administrative burden and ensure a level playing field across the EU.

Collective employment relations and social dialogue

Commitment to apprenticeships and training in food, agriculture and tourism

On 16 October 2014, the European-level social partners in the food and drink industry, the employers' association FoodDrinkEurope and the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) presented a joint initiative to MEPs pledging their commitment to encouraging high quality apprenticeships in businesses across Europe (113 KB PDF). This commitment aims to attract young people to the sector and to strengthen competition in a sector that is Europe's leading manufacturing employer, with 4.5 million employees. This is the first time that the EU-level social partners have come together to improve the apprenticeship system in Europe.

Economic outlook and the future of social Europe

BusinessEurope's 2014 Economic Outlook (967 KB PDF) provides evidence that, while the growth of the European economy has lost some momentum, it has not stalled. In 2015, potential growth in gross domestic product (GDP) is expected of 1.7% in the EU and 1.2% in the euro zone. This implies a small downward revision of 0.2 percentage points for the EU and 0.4 percentage points for the euro zone from the last forecast in spring 2014. Unemployment rates are expected to fall to 9.5% in the EU and 10.6% in the euro zone in 2015. This means that growth in the EU will remain feeble. Both food and energy price falls are contributing to low inflation. The report highlights the need for greater efforts from policymakers to provide a fresh impetus to growth and further reduce unemployment. According to the forecast, the key measures needed are support for competitive product and services markets, labour market flexibility, improved access to finance and a deeper single market.

In a brochure on the future of social Europe (2.62 MB PDF) published in November 2014, BusinessEurope sketches the main challenges and the way ahead. Social problems in Europe are not due to a deficit of social policy, it argues, but to a lack of global competitiveness. It concludes that strong policy choices are needed to strengthen the EU’s competitiveness and so create more jobs.

UEAPME’s response to the Europe 2020 mid-term review

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) replied on 24 October 2014 to the public consultation on the review of the Europe 2020 Strategy, saying that the following lessons had been learned.

  • Growth and jobs have to come from the private sector.
  • There is a need for stronger economic governance to avoid negative spill-over effects between Member States.
  • More effort has to be made to ensure effective implementation of jointly agreed reforms and policies.

In its position paper replying to the consultation (171 MB PDF), UEAPME asks for priority to be given to:

  • competitiveness to make private investment in Europe more attractive;
  • better integration of the EU 2020 Strategy with economic governance structures such as the European Semester;
  • involving national and European stakeholders, such as the social partners, in the development of policies to create ownership on reform processes and enhance their implementation.

EFFAT Congress

The fourth EFFAT Congress was held on 20–21 November 2014 in Vienna. Its member organisations adopted policy resolutions and a plan of work that will guide the organisation’s strategy and policies for the next five years. The members set objectives and action for multinational businesses and European Works Councils (EWCs). EFFAT represents 120 national trade unions from 35 countries in Europe and has more than 2.6 million members. Prominent discussions addressed the new political challenges created by the economic and social crisis. The Congress discussed the future of national and European sectoral social dialogue and union-led solutions for promoting employment and overcoming the crisis. Four fundamental objectives were identified:

  • to defend and improve workers' and unions' rights and unions' representation and/or participation rights;
  • to safeguard and create employment;
  • to improve quality of life and prevent social dumping;
  • to improve working conditions. 

One of the priorities is to increase the number of EWCs and to incorporate the provisions of the revised 2009 directive on EWCs into agreements.

Individual employment relations

Draft report on undeclared work

In April 2014, the European Commission proposed the establishment of a European Platform against undeclared work, making Member States' membership mandatory to help focus targeted cooperation at EU level to build capacity and foster cross-border cooperation.

On 1 December 2014, rapporteur Georgi Pirinski (a Bulgarian representative and member of the European Parliament's Socialists and Democrats group) presented his draft report to Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) of the European Parliament on the establishment of a European Platform to enhance cooperation in the prevention and deterrence of undeclared work (246 KB PDF). The draft report drew attention to the complexity of the issue, pointing out that the new European Platform should provide clear added value at EU level not only to efforts to prevent and deter undeclared work but, perhaps even more importantly, to regularise the jobs involved. The report calls for the Platform to also have an advisory role – for example, to initiate proposals and opinions within the European Semester. It also points out that the extent of undeclared work remains difficult to measure as results vary considerably depending on the definitions and measurement methods used at European and at national levels.

Ruling on temporary work directive

On 20 November 2014, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar delivered his opinion on the first case that interprets Directive 2008/104/EC on temporary agency work. The Directive stipulated that Member States must, by 5 December 2011, have made sure that any national restrictions on the recourse to temporary work could be justified. The Advocate General was asked to give an opinion about whether this was a procedural issue or a clause that obliged Member States to remove unjustifiable restrictions: he responded that the latter was the case. Should the European Court of Justice agree with the ruling  – which it normally does – this will open the door to a re-examination of such restrictive clauses. It will also be the first time that a social policy directive is found to lay the ground for the reexamination of pre-existing national labour law.

Health and well-being at work

BusinessEurope published a position paper on 1 December 2014 supporting the better implementation, compliance and simplification of existing EU and national legislation (218 KB PDF), which is the focus of the new EU health and safety strategic framework. The position paper's key messages are:

  • good health and safety performance can help business competitiveness, but only as long as the benefits outweigh the costs and administrative burdens of measures at the workplace;
  • employers’ responsibility to maintain workers' health and safety does not extend beyond the workplace and/or the work itself;
  • the EU can provide most added-value for the diverse national, sectoral and company circumstances through exchanges of best practice, data collection and development tools;
  • thorough involvement of the EU and national social partners needs to be guaranteed to achieve effective implement of the strategic framework.

Working time and work–life balance

Resolution on working time in inland waterway transport

At its sitting on 23 October 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on working time in inland waterway transport (316 KB MS Word, pp. 51–52). The European Commission’s proposal regulates working time for the inland waterway transport sector by implementing an agreement reached by EU-level representatives of employers and employees in the sector. The agreement sets minimum requirements for working time on inland passenger and cargo transport ships across the EU and complements the general working time directive, which does not cover inland waterway workers. Once agreed by the Council as a directive, this proposal will help improve working conditions for 31,000 crew members and shipboard personnel, and create fairer competitive conditions for the 9,645 enterprises active in this sector.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s Network of National Correspondents. Further resources on EU-level developments in industrial relations and working conditions 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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