The shock announcement by French motor manufacturer Renault, on 28 February
1997, of the closure of its plant at Vilvoorde, led to an unprecedented
public display of condemnation among the political establishment of the
European Union (EU). The closure of the plant, in the Belgian Prime
Minister's constituency near Brussels, with the loss of 3,100 jobs, was
apparently announced without prior consultation with worker representatives.
The move was justified by Renault as being part of a wider reorganisation
aimed at making savings of over FRF 825 million per year. The closure of the
only Renault production site in Belgium is likely to lead a further 1,000
redundancies among suppliers and subcontractors; jobs which, in the current
economic climate in Belgium, are unlikely to be replaced in the near future.
The announcement came as a particularly heavy blow to a workforce who had
thought their jobs safe, having negotiated a major flexibility and investment
package only four years previously. The plant is generally regarded as being
highly productive and achieving high levels of quality. The decision by
Renault to close this plant in July 1997 has been interpreted by many workers
as a warning that even a willingness to accept more flexible working
practices can in future no longer be regarded as a guarantee for job
security. The predicament of the workers at Vilvoorde has led to an
unprecedented display of worker solidarity, not only among employees at other
Renault production sites in Europe, but also among workers in other troubled
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
At the end of February 1997 the education and employment minister, James
Paice, was warning that "people ignore at their peril the value of investing
in learning", arguing that too many employers still do not realise the value
of investing in their employees. He went on to say that action should be
taken immediately to drive up skill levels and standards to keep up with
growing international competition. Employers were said to be a crucial part
of this process but, it is "not how much you invest in training, its how you
invest it". The Government thus backs the Investors in People (IIP) standard,
as it shows that spending money on people is an investment and not a cost.
At the beginning of 1997, the total privatisation of Telefónica, the largest
Spanish telecommunications firm, was completed. The trade unions in the
company, led by CCOO and UGT, have applied for a judicial review of this
measure, demanding its suspension until the new regulatory framework for the
sector is defined, and a public, universal and quality service is guaranteed
in the area of telecommunications. The Supreme Court has agreed to consider
the appeal but has not suspended the privatisation.
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.
On 5 March 1997 the European Commission issued a Memorandum on the
interpretation of the 1977 Directive on business transfers (77/187/EEC) which
aims to clarify certain aspects of the Directive. It also seeks to address
the criticisms levied against the draft Directive to replace the 1977 text,
launched by the Commission in 1994. The proposed draft sought to take into
account the changed business environment following the implementation of the
single market project.
Until recent years, largely due to the voluntary system of industrial
relations in the UK, a universal national minimum wage has never been more
than a passing thought. Instead, because of the growing awareness of poor
working conditions and low wages, trade boards were established in 1909 in
certain "sweated trades" to set minimum wages and standards. The areas and
industries under the boards' coverage began to widen, so that by the time
they became known as Wages Councils (WCs) in 1945 they covered some 4.5
million workers. But from the 1960s, the WCs came under increasing criticism
for three main reasons:
The 1994 labour market reform led to a spectacular increase in part-time
employment contracts, which had hardly been used in Spain before that time.
This feature describes this development and points out the main
characteristics of the workers employed under these contracts, who are mainly
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.
Eurofound’s work on COVID-19 examines the far-reaching socioeconomic implications of the pandemic across Europe as they continue to impact living and working conditions. A key element of the research is the e-survey, launched in April 2020, with five rounds completed at different stages during 2020, 2021 and 2022. This is complemented by the inclusion of research into the ongoing effects of the pandemic in much of Eurofound’s other areas of work.
Eurofound's representativeness studies are designed to allow the European Commission to identify the ‘management and labour’ whom it must consult under article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This series consists of studies of the representativeness of employer and worker organisations in various sectors.
This series reports on developments in minimum wage rates across the EU, including how they are set and how they have developed over time in nominal and real terms. The series explores where there are statutory minimum wages or collectively agreed minimum wages in the Member States, as well as minimum wage coverage rates by gender.
The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) launched in 1990 and is carried out every five years, with the latest edition in 2015. It provides an overview of trends in working conditions and quality of employment for the last 30 years. It covers issues such as employment status, working time duration and organisation, work organisation, learning and training, physical and psychosocial risk factors, health and safety, work–life balance, worker participation, earnings and financial security, work and health, and most recently also the future of work.
The European Restructuring Monitor has reported on the employment impact of large-scale business restructuring since 2002. This series includes its restructuring-related databases (events, support instruments and legislation) as well as case studies and publications.
Eurofound’s Flagship report series 'Challenges and prospects in the EU' comprise research reports that contain the key results of multiannual research activities and incorporate findings from different related research projects. Flagship reports are the major output of each of Eurofound’s strategic areas of intervention and have as their objective to contribute to current policy debates.
Eurofound’s European Company Survey (ECS) maps and analyses company policies and practices which can have an impact on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, as well as the development of social dialogue in companies. This series consists of outputs from the ECS 2019, the fourth edition of the survey. The survey was first carried out in 2004–2005 as the European Survey on Working Time and Work-Life Balance.
This series reports on and updates latest information on the involvement of national social partners in policymaking. The series analyses the involvement of national social partners in the implementation of policy reforms within the framework of social dialogue practices, including their involvement in elaborating the National Reform Programmes (NRPs).
This series reports on the new forms of employment emerging across Europe that are driven by societal, economic and technological developments and are different from traditional standard or non-standard employment in a number of ways. This series explores what characterises these new employment forms and what implications they have for working conditions and the labour market.
The European Company Survey (ECS) is carried out every four to five years since its inception in 2004–2005, with the latest edition in 2019. The survey is designed to provide information on workplace practices to develop and evaluate socioeconomic policy in the EU. It covers issues around work organisation, working time arrangements and work–life balance, flexibility, workplace innovation, employee involvement, human resource management, social dialogue, and most recently also skills use, skills strategies and digitalisation.