Business in UK and Sweden attacks bid to protect workers

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Series Details Vol.7, No.41, 8.11.01, p12
Publication Date 08/11/2001
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Date: 08/11/01

By Laurence Frost

EMPLOYMENT Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou has defended a controversial leaked paper that businesses fear will increase obstacles to restructuring and allow workers to challenge redundancy decisions in court.

Diamantopoulou's proposal for consultation between the EU 'social partners' - employers and trade unions - explores ways of protecting workers against summary redundancies.

It refers to existing rules in countries such as France, where firms have to demonstrate that redundancies are made only after all alternative cost-cutting measures have been considered. But the Greek commissioner now rejects suggestions that ideas floated in the document represent plans for legislation. Her spokesman, Andrew Fielding, said EU legislation was "not inevitable" as a goal of such a consultation exercise. "Social partner consultations are never knee-jerk legislative activities," he said.

He was speaking after both the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Confederation of Swedish

Enterprise wrote to Diamantopoulou's fellow commissioners urging them not to support her initiative.

In his letter, CBI President Digby Jones writes: "Job security can only come from European businesses succeeding in global markets." He also warns that "unless European businesses are able to alter work organisation to boost productivity or pursue economies of scale...they risk falling behind competitors headquartered in the US or elsewhere".

Employers' groups including EU confederation UNICE fear the paper could lead to new rules preventing European firms from taking full economic advantage of new technologies by cutting back their workforces.

Fielding said there was "no question" of limiting companies' rights to make workers redundant. "The only question is whether companies can better anticipate and prepare workforces ahead of decisions to lay-off workers," he said, citing departmental spin-offs and relocation as alternatives that firms might be "encouraged" to consider.

Diamantopoulou's consultation proposal was initially tabled under the Commission's written procedure allowing for unanimous fast-track adoption, but has now been transferred to the main agenda after objections from Pedro Solbes, the EU economic affairs commissioner. No date has yet been fixed for the debate.

Reaction to Employment Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou's proposal for consultation between the EU's 'social partners' - employers and trade unions - which explores ways of protecting workers against summary redundancies.

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