Commission rejects proposed agreement in hairdressing sector

On 2 October 2013, the European Commission announced that it will not consider giving a legal basis to the 2012 social partner agreement in the hairdressing sector until a broader review of EU occupational health and safety legislation has been carried out in 2015. Representatives on both employers’ and employees’ sides have expressed disappointment and anger that measures which could lead to cost-savings and improve employee welfare have been delayed by political pressure.

The agreement

In April 2012 the social partners in the EU hairdressing sector, the employers’ organisation Coiffure EU and employees’ union UNI Hair & Beauty, signed a framework agreement on health and safety in hairdressing (4.6MB PDF) (EU1205031I). The social partners asked the European Commission, under Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to make the agreement legally binding in all EU Member States, by issuing an EU Directive.

The agreement covers issues such as the use of chemicals and irritating substances, ergonomics and working time. It reinforces protection for pregnant women and calls on suppliers to research ways of producing less harmful products. The agreement covers workers with an employment contract, including self-employed workers and employers. In total, it affects one million workers employed in 400,000 salons across Europe.

At the time, the European Commission noted in a press release on new measures to boost health and safety in the hair and beauty industry, that the costs of implementing the measures in the agreement were low, at less than €0.5 per customer, or just over 1% of the annual turnover of an average salon. It also said that the benefits were clear for employers and workers alike, as they would reduce sick leave, cut staff turnover and reduce treatment and follow-up costs for healthcare systems which have to treat workers from the sector for occupational diseases.

Opposition from Member States

In October 2012, UNI Hair & Beauty issued a press release, stating that the agreement had come under attack from some EU Member States (EU1301011I). Specifically, the Dutch government proposed the submission of a joint letter by EU Member States opposing any form of regulation in this area. It wanted the EC to reject the social partners’ request to make the agreement binding. Among those expected to sign such a letter were the UK, German, Estonian, Finnish, Swedish, Romanian, Croatian, Slovenian and Polish governments.

In late November 2012, Coiffure EU and UNI Hair & Beauty issued a joint statement in defence of their agreement, in which they stressed their view that the agreement would make the hair and beauty sector a better place in which to work, to the benefit of all hairdressers and approximately 350 million potential clients across EU Member States. They also stressed the importance of this sector, in terms of both the number of salons and workers covered.

EC reluctant to make final decision

On 2 October 2013, the EC decided to wait until a broader review of occupational health and safety legislation had been carried out before making a final decision. It is thought that this review will not be completed until 2015. UNI Hair & Beauty reacted angrily, with its President, Poul Monggaard, stating: ‘The Commission announced its negative decision on the agreement without giving the social partners any say, nor informing them beforehand. It is an unprecedented step of disregard that is improper and unacceptable.’

UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings and Poul Monggaard wrote a joint letter to the UK business newspaper, the Financial Times, on 7 October, in which they stated that the agreement ‘makes sensible recommendations to avoid employees being at risk from chemicals with which they come into contact in salons’.

From the employers’ side, Richard Koffijberg, President of Coiffure EU, has expressed his disappointment with the recent development, stating:

I regret the fact that the social partners’ agreement is delayed in the name of the crisis, when I am convinced that it can yield important cost savings and contribute to the welfare of workers in the sector. It feels that the progress of health and safety in hairdressing is now caught up in a political battle of anti-European sentiments in some of the EU countries.

Commentary

This development is perhaps not a great surprise to the EU-level social partners in the hair and beauty sector, given the political prominence given to the EC’s consideration of their agreement over the past few months. Nevertheless, the social partners are clearly disappointed at what they see as a failure to provide a legal basis for a social partner agreement, in accordance with Treaty provisions. This is a development that could have wider implications for the future of EU-level social dialogue.

It would now appear that there will be no further decision on this issue from the EC until at least 2015, after completion of the broader review of EU occupational health and safety legislation.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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