Employers accused of obstinacy over temps

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol 7, No.10, 8.3.01, p8
Publication Date 08/03/2001
Content Type

Date: 08/03/01

By John Shelley

TALKS to draw up rules on working conditions for temporary agency staff across the EU appear to have collapsed without a deal.

Nine months of negotiations with employers' groups and unions were supposed to be concluded last week and insiders say an agreed one-month extension will probably be spent winding up the process rather than brokering a last-minute compromise.

European Voice revealed in January how the talks were deadlocked because of an ideological difference over the basis on which temps should be guaranteed equal treatment. Since then there has been little progress, with both sides refusing to budge from their essential positions.

"We really don't understand why it is that they are being so obstinate," said Penny Clarke, one of the negotiating team for the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

ETUC says the basis of any deal must be the principle that agency workers are given the same rights as workers in the company where they are temporarily employed.

But companies insist that it is enough to ensure such workers are granted minimum employment standards by their agencies. An interim worker would, for example, be guaranteed pay equal to similar staff on the agency books - but not necessarily comparable to full-time workers in the office where he or she is placed.

"The employers' position is frankly rubbish," said Clarke. "Equal treatment is all about comparing like with like. Agency workers don't work with other people in the agency, they work with people in the user company."

The Union's 'social partners' - ETUC, employers federation UNICE, small business organisation UEAPME and CEEP, which represents state-owned companies - agreed to talks on agency workers in May last year. Deals on part-time work and fixed-term contracts had already been approved when the latest negotiations began.

Under Union rules they had nine months to broker a deal. That deadline expired last week and although all sides have now agreed to meet one more time next week, there is a mood of pessimism.

"At the last meeting the employers groups said they weren't budging," said Clarke. "There is nothing else we can say to them."

If no deal is reached the Commission is expected to draw up proposals instead. Although this could favour trade unions, which are keen to see EU-wide rules, employers groups will hope such plans will be blocked or watered down when they come before member states for approval.

UNICE refused to comment except to say it was surprised ETUC had broken an agreement not to publicly discuss developments.

Talks to draw up rules on working conditions for temporary agency staff across the EU appear to have collapsed without a deal.

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