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In the new collective agreement in the Dutch building industry, signed in
March 1997, a relatively large pay increase has been matched by a degree of
increased flexibility regarding the use of temporary employment agency
workers and the rules governing working hours.
In November 1996, the UK Government failed in its attempt to have the 1993
Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC)
- which lays down specific requirements concerning weekly hours, holidays,
shifts and other patterns of work - annulled by the ECJ. The DTI launched
consultations with business organisations on implementation of the Directive
in December 1996, and the process was completed in March 1997. The DTI is now
analysing the responses, but is unlikely to produce the results until some
time after the 1 May general election.
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 Government has published a working document, entitled "Maritime and ports
policy at the approach of the 21st Century", for public debate. In the
document it proposes a number of measures to deregulate dock work, and the
National Federation of Dockers' Unions has criticised the lack of prior
dialogue and is opposing the new proposals.
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 ).
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
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.