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European Consultation on Labour Law

by nanne Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 07:13:57 AM EST

The European Commission has recently released its Green Paper on labour law - which was already broken here by Colman in October - and opened the Consultation round.

Over to the Commission:

The discussion paper is aimed at anyone with an interest in the changing nature of work in Europe. In particular, the Commission expects to receive responses from national authorities, trade unions and employers' organisations, as well as the general public. By having an open and vigorous debate, it hopes to encourage the widest range of contributions possible. The consultation will remain open for four months ending on 31st March 2007.

Here on Eurotrib, Jerome commented on a news story about this, in which the business community was whining about some perceived threat of actual regulation. But just because business doesn't like what it's seeing, doesn't mean that the Green Paper is actually very good.

Personally, I think it's rather myopic that the green paper does not seek to address the relationship between labour law, employment security and birthrates explicitly (see post). In my opinion, this is but one of the many topics that can no longer be treated in isolation, but which the EU is continuing to handle as if it could be.

You can find the green paper here (.pdf). These are the questions asked in the consultation, some of them may not be comprehensible out of context, though:

  1. What would you consider to be the priorities for a meaningful labour law reform agenda?

  2. Can the adaptation of labour law and collective agreements contribute to improved flexibility and employment security and a reduction in labour market segmentation? If yes, then how?

  3. Do existing regulations, whether in the form of law and/or collective agreements, hinder or stimulate enterprises and employees seeking to avail of opportunities to increase productivity and adjust to the introduction of new technologies and changes linked to international competition? How can improvements be made in the quality of regulations affecting SMEs, while preserving their objectives?

  4. How might recruitment under permanent and temporary contracts be facilitated, whether by law or collective agreement, so as to allow for more flexibility within the framework of these contracts while ensuring adequate standards of employment security and social protection at the same time?

  5. Would it be useful to consider a combination of more flexible employment protection legislation and welldesigned assistance to the unemployed, both in the form of income compensation (i.e. passive labour market policies) and active labour market policies?

  6. What role might law and/or collective agreements negotiated between the social partners play in promoting access to training and transitions between different contractual forms for upward mobility over the course of a fully active working life?

  7. Is greater clarity needed in Member States' legal definitions of employment and self-employment to facilitate bona fide transitions from employment to self-employment and vice versa?

  8. Is there a need for a "floor of rights" dealing with the working conditions of all workers regardless of the form of their work contract? What, in your view, would be the impact of such minimum requirements on job creation as well as on the protection of workers?

  9. Do you think the responsibilities of the various parties within multiple employment relationships should be clarified to determine who is accountable for compliance with employment rights? Would subsidiary liability be an effective and feasible way to establish that responsibility in the case of sub-contractors? If not, do you see other ways to ensure adequate protection of workers in "three-way relationships"?

  10. Is there a need to clarify the employment status of temporary agency workers?

  11. How could minimum requirements concerning the organization of working time be modified in order to provide greater flexibility for both employers and employees, while ensuring a high standard of protection of workers' health and safety? What aspects of the organization of working time should be tackled as a matter of priority by the Community?

  12. How can the employment rights of workers operating in a transnational context, including in particular frontier workers, be assured throughout the Community? Do you see a need for more convergent definitions of 'worker' in EU Directives in the interests of ensuring that these workers can exercise their employment rights, regardless of the Member State where they work? Or do you believe that Member States should retain their discretion in this matter?

  13. Do you think it is necessary to reinforce administrative co-operation between the relevant authorities to boost their effectiveness in enforcing Community labour law? Do you see a role for social partners in such cooperation?

  14. Do you consider that further initiatives are needed at an EU level to support action by the Member States to combat undeclared work?

Is it a fair consultation? Does anyone here feel a need to participate?


I always think it is good for us to participate in these papers...if we have something we feel strongly enough to say about a topic (and with labor, I would say we definitely do have strong feelings...). But we have also found that it really takes someone having enough interest to lead an effort. Are you up for this, Nanne? I think you would find people interested in helping. You can also ask afew what he has learned doing the green papers...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 08:15:12 AM EST
I would be willing to coordinate the effort on this, yes. I can draft a first version after the brainstorming, gather and incorporate replies, coordinate versions, etc. I'll look into what I can do technically, like a wiki page or the writingboard that was used for the response to the energy consultation. I can also try to structure the discussion if it doesn't take off automatically.

First, let's see what the opinions are here, because I haven't fully formed mine. I'd say the purpose of the labour law should be to provide (especially young) people at the bottom with more secure careers (not necessarily secure jobs). The other major issue is how to integrate the 55-75 age segment into the labour market. What jobs can be found for them, and what role should labour law play here?

To look across the Atlantic, this is a good place for starting to read on how this 'flexibilisation' shouldn't be done.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 09:43:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's rather myopic that the green paper does not seek to address the relationship between labour law, employment security and birthrates

If you want to include birthrates, I'd also include retirement age and jobless rate. The effects of the three are intimately connected.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 05:04:20 PM EST
Rather broad questions, and I don't want to write an essay here.

  1. Preventing arace to the bottom, e.g.: pan-european strong labor laws. Pan-europeanising workers' defense of their interests, e.g. better possibility of action against company owners in another country.

  2. Loaded question: assumes "flexibility", "employment security" and "reducing segmentation" as goals. I'm not sure I support the first and third that much.

  3. Another manipulative question, makes business intention to increase 'productivity' the goal. The role of employment laws is NOT to help companies thrive any way they want, it is orthogonal or even opposed to it, any more than the role of human rights is to help police work!...

  4. This is now a trend. Another loaded question in the exact same direction.

  5. "Flexible flexible", my head explodes.

  6. What role? Facilitating it. Strikes me as a patently silly question.

  7. Frankly I don't know. I know there is the phenomenon of the "entrepreneur by necessity", people who have to do their job as self-employed for lack of other opportunities but without any chance of growth. If this can be addressed by changing definitions, good. If definitions are changed while ignoring this phenomenon, making it worse or effecting a wider range of people, very bad. I suspect the intention is the latter, 'forcing' people into self-employment in a starry-eyed neoliberal vision. This is just as bad a social experient as those by the Bolsheviks.

  8. Of course there is, but this is tricky, because one shoe doesn't fit all, you can't defend workers' rights the same way in different kinds of jobs, and if a common denominator minimum is chosen as floor, it could be a hit to all. There is again the loaded question directing the reader to orthogonal issues. But to answer the question anyway, methinks the effect would be a temporary dent in job creation, until employers saw that an employers' strike won't work and this is the new reality to live with. (Of course, will never happen, our political elites are too cowardly to see it through.)

  9. I'd prefer shared responsibilities, the main contractor shouldn't get away.

  10. Possibly.

  11. Flexi... aaargh!

  12. With more similarity between labor laws and their effect across borders. Second question: yes, well duh. But not by choosing the weakest definition for all.

  13. Well duh. WELL DUH. If companies can be multinationals, labor should be too.

  14. No firefighter measures from EU level.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 05:38:45 PM EST
Thanks for the answers.

It is unclear to me what the green paper means by 'flexibility', or it can perhaps mean different things in different places.

On 'labour market segmentation': the green paper follows a study group by Wim Kok which has found that in various countries there is a flexible labour market with very low protection around the edges of the main labour market, which has very strong protections. These are younger workers (or recent (re-)entrants) who are trapped in a string of fixed-term, part-time, seasonal and temp jobs with very low protections, and older workers who are no longer being employed once they lose their jobs, in a market which has very robust protections for permanent contracts. This has already created something like a two-tiered labour market, which could be established permanently if no action is taken.

I'd say that labour market segmentation is a bad thing, but the question is how to combat it. The EU calls its approach 'flexicurity', but the question is if this is not more flexibility than security. In particular, it seems to be a two-pronged approach: increase the protections for flexible contracts somewhat, and decrease the protections for permanent contracts in order to have more flexibility.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 03:33:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I completely mis-guessed what they meant with segmentation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 05:50:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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