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The /Seymour-Smith/ case has raised the issue of the legality of the two-year
qualifying period of employment before employees may bring a claim for unfair
dismissal. The /Observer/ in April reported that many employees are having
their employment contracts terminated only days before completing the
two-year period which is necessary to gain employment protection. At present,
full-time employees must have accumulated two years' continuous service,
while for employees who work between eight and 16 hours per week, the
qualifying period is five years.
April 1997 was a very good month for securing the future of British car
plants. The Ford Halewood plant on Merseyside and the Peugeot Ryton plant in
Coventry have both secured the production of new vehicles into the next
century. The future of Rover's Longbridge plant is in the balance while an
announcement is delayed over whether a new model /Mini/ will be produced.
On 17 April 1997, the Spanish Parliament endorsed the new convergence
programme released by the Government, the /1997-2000 Stability Plan/.
Employers and unions have expressed certain doubts about this programme: the
employers' associations consider that it is feasible, but do not rule out the
possibility that a severer adjustment will be necessary than expected; the
trade unions suspect that the programme may involve cuts in social
expenditure and have expressed their disagreement with the privatisation plan
that accompanies it.
After 10 months of discussions and three months of intense negotiations, in
April 1997 the main trade unions and employers' associations in Spain for the
first time reached an agreement on labour market reform. This is a bipartite
agreement which reduces the cost of dismissal and attempts to promote secure
employment. The Government is likely to introduce legislation to support the
The Belgian Defence Minister, Jean-Pol Poncelet, has announced measures that
will prompt far-reaching changes in the personnel structure of the Belgian
armed forces, covering the army, navy and airforce. The policy directly or
indirectly affects about 40,000 military personnel. Mr Poncelet's plans are
innovative and rather unusual for the armed forces, which are not normally
known for their swift changes in organisational structure and personnel
management. The Minister feels, however, that the armed forces should not be
exempt from moves towards greater flexibility, currently a prominent theme in
labour negotiations in Belgium. Moreover, changes in the armed forces can
serve as an example for other sectors of the Belgian economy.
On 8 April 1997, Jacques Barrot, the Minister for Employment, gave the press
a preview of the forthcoming legislation on the reduction of social security
contributions and the statutory working week. Among the subjects dealt with
will be a revision of existing legislation on banning women from working at
night, which Mr Barrot deems necessary.
The recent proposal by the EU agriculture commissioner, Franz Fischler, to
alter the method of granting Community aid to olive farmers fell like a
bombshell in Spain. This reform would not only have serious economic
repercussions, but would also lead to the loss of at least 70,000 jobs,
according to some trade unions in the sector. Farm-owners' organisations,
cooperatives, trade unions and the regional and central administrations have
rejected the proposal and are preparing all kinds of protest action.
Following negotiations which have been held in a cooperative atmosphere,
Belgacom, the partially privatised, but still largely government-owned
Belgian telephone company, has announced plans to reduce rather drastically
its number of employees. The current workforce of about 26,000 will have to
be reduced by about 5,000 by the end of 1998.
The next step in the Renault Vilvoorde saga (BE9703202F ) was probably not
initially foreseen by Renault senior management in Paris. Indeed, although
the Renault managing director, Louis Schweitzer, has already announced that
the tribunal decision to annul the closure of the Renault plant in Vilvoorde
will in no way interfere with the plans to close the plant, it has slightly
changed the dynamics and the timetable of the course of events.