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On 19 March 1997, Parliament passed a reform of the Arbeitszeitgesetz(AZG,
Working Time Act) - see Record AT9702102F . This necessitated minor
changes to the Arbeitsruhegesetz(ARG, Leisure Time Act) which were also
passed on 19 March. However, the parliamentary Labour and Social Affairs
Committee, at the behest of the social partners, had introduced wording
allowing more flexibility than hitherto in regard to Sunday work, causing a
major public debate in its wake. In future it will be possible for the social
partners to conclude collective agreements permitting exceptions from the
general ban on Sunday work. They can only do so, the law states, if it is
necessary in order to avoid economic disadvantage or to safeguard employment.
As far as this is feasible, the collective agreement has to specify the
activities to be permissible on Sundays and the time allowed for them. Until
now it was not possible to grant specific exemptions from the ban on Sunday
work except if the technology required continuous production. The Minister of
Labour and Social Affairs could, however, permit a whole industry to work on
The phenomenon of illegal immigration in Greece has taken on an ever more
serious dimension. According to evidence from the Ministry of Public Order
the number of foreign workers without a work permit is now around 400,000,
and is expected to increase still further owing to the recent crises in
Albania and Bulgaria. The main countries of origin are Albania, Poland,
Bulgaria and Romania, as well as countries in Asia and Africa. However, there
are also around 30,000 additional foreign nationals who originate from EU
member states, and obtain a special written permit from the Ministry of
Law 21/96, which aims to reduce the working week to 40 hours, has given rise
to labour disputes in certain sectors and some controversial statements. An
official communication released by the Secretary of State for Employment in
March attempts to shed light on the areas of concern.
Legislative changes have been introduced affecting "atypical" work under the
Contracts of Employment Act, the Study Leave Act and the Occupational Safety
Act. The changes came into force at the beginning of February and they aim to
bring the legal status of persons in such work closer to the status of
persons under a regular employment contract.
Akzo Nobel has announced that it will not observe its 1995 collective
agreement and that it will abandon the introduction of a standard 36-hour
week as of 1 July 1997. Its new proposals have divided the unions.
At the beginning of March the first steps were taken towards the creation of
the first "European super union". One of Britain's biggest trade unions, the
General, Municipal and Boilermakers' Union (GMB), signed a joint membership
agreement with the German chemical workers' union. The deal between the GMB
and IG Chemie-Papier-Keramik means that 1.8 million workers will be entitled
to joint membership. Although the two unions may not provide the same
services, UK workers in Germany can expect legal advice, support from
representatives, and training facilities, while German workers in the UK can
expect legal advice, health and safety information and financial benefits
(Record DE9703206N ).
Negotiations to revise the important collective agreement in Portugal's
banking sector are deadlocked. The industry's largest trade union will soon
hold its elections, but its socialist members are divided, while substantial
workforce reductions have been announced for the coming years.
The Ministry of Labour has chosen 20 municipalities in different parts of
Finland to participate in new forms of working time organisation on an
experimental basis. Results so far have been favourable.
After a legal battle lasting more than three years between the management of
La Samaritaine (one of the five large Paris department stores), and its works
council and CGT union branch, two rulings by the highest court in the French
legal system on 13 February 1997, imposed the reinstatement of staff made
redundant, as part of the cancellation of a corporate "downsizing" procedure
(plan social). These rulings reveal the growing role of judges in the
supervision of redundancies.