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Labour law in the European Union


In November 2006 the Commission of the European communities started a public debate in the EU on how labour law can evolve to support the objective of achieving sustainable growth with more and better jobs. The modernisation of labour law constitutes a key element for the success of the adaptability of workers and enterprises. This objective needs to be pursuit in the light of the communities’ objectives of full employment, labour productivity and social cohesion. The European Counsel has called for mobilising all appropriate national and community resources to promote a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to the challenges stemming from the combined impact of globalisation and of the ageing of European societies. It emphasises that the responsiveness of European labour markets should be increased to promote economic activity and high productivity.

The drive for flexibility in the labour market has given rise to increasingly diverse contractual forms of employment which can differ significantly from the standard contractual model in terms of the degree of employment and income security and the relative stability of associated working and living conditions. Next to the drive for flexibility employment security and reducing labour market segmentation is crucial. Therefore the new wording “flexicurity” has been used.

  1. The EC is of the opinion that labour law should be modernised making labour and social security laws more sufficient to assist workers in making transitions from one status to another, whether in the case of involuntary discontinuities (e.g. dismissal and unemployment) or voluntary discontinuities (e.g. in the case of education and training leave, caring responsibilities, career breaks and parental leave). The problems of female workers who are disproportionately represented in new forms of work arrangements and who still face obstacles in seeking access to full rise and social benefits, also need to be addressed.
  2. Another issue is the growing incidence of temporary agency work leading to changes in labour law. Types of temporary agency work is regulated in most member states through a mix of legislation, collective labour agreements and self regulation. The commission’s proposal for a directive on temporary agency workers seeks to establish the non-discrimination principle to insure that agency workers are treated no less favourably than the regular workers.
  3. Next to these issues the organisation of working time is a hot topic. The commission is reviewing the situation in order to provide greater flexibility for both employers and employees, while ensuring a high standard of protection of workers health and safety.
  4. Fourth issue is the mobility of workers as most EU labour law legislation has left the definition of worker to the member states. It has been argued that member states should retain discretion in deciding the scope of definitions of worker used in different directives. Freedom of movement is an increasing point of discussion in respect to national law versus community law. Difficulties associated with the different definitions of worker have emerged particularly in connection with the implementation of directives on posting of workers and transfer of undertakings.

The EC has initiated the public consultation during the first quarter of 2007 and a follow up Commission communication was recently published. In this EC communication EC states that it is appropriate to reach a consensus at EU level on a series of common principles of flexicurity. These common principles could be a useful reference in achieving more open and responsive labour markets and more productive work places. This should help member states / in the establishment and implementation of flexicurity strategies which fully take into account their own respective specific challenges, opportunities and circumstances, with the active involvement of social partners.

In the paper a list of common principles is summarised and it has been set out a pathway for carefully planning and negotiating combinations and sequences of policies and measures. These pathways have been developed on the bases of the member states situations and of the report of the Flexicurity Expert Group. The member states, taking account of theirown particular situation and institutional background should study their specific challenges and the typical pathways that can help to address them in order to design their own comprehensive pathway towards better combinations of flexibility and security.

Issues to be further discussed are about contractual arrangements, lifelong learning, active labour market policies, social security systems, trust between social partners and sequencing and financing of those measures.

So, there is a huge discussion going on for the years coming. We will follow the progress and outcome and we will inform you consequently.

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Labour Law in the European Union
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