Employers and trade unions in deadlock over temporary staff rules

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Series Details Vol 7, No.1, 4.1.01, p6
Publication Date 04/01/2001
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Date: 04/01/01

By John Shelley

TALKS aimed at drawing up common rules for temporary staff across the EU have reached an impasse as trade unions accuse employers of trying to obstruct a deal.

Six months into the negotiations, the social partners who are trying to hammer out a deal on working conditions for agency workers have failed to agree on even the most basic principles for establishing the new rules.

Both sides in the debate are refusing to comment officially on the behind-closed-door talks, but insiders say that, with only three months left before negotiations must be finalised, there are few signs of progress. "Things are stalled," said one. "It is very difficult at the moment."

The four social partners, representing businesses and trade unions, agreed last May to discuss rules for temporary workers and have until March 2001 to reach a deal under EU rules. The deadline could, however, be extended if all sides agree.

The unions, led by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), are demanding that agency workers are treated the same as their full-time counterparts as the basis of any deal. This, they say, would discourage employers from hiring temporary staff simply because they are cheaper than full-time workers or because they can be denied the benefits permanent employees enjoy.

The ETUC hopes that once agreement is reached on equality, the talks could move on to meatier areas such as rules to ban employers from using agency staff in certain cases, for example, in dangerous construction work.

But it has so far been difficult to conclude an agreement on the equality principle, with deep-rooted differences over what exactly it should mean.

The ETUC argues temporary employees must be guaranteed the same rights as full-time workers in the firm for which they are working. But employers' federation UNICE says it could be enough to ensure that temporary staff are granted minimum employment standards by their agencies. An interim worker would, for example, be guaranteed pay equal to others in his agency, but not necessarily comparable to full-time staff in the office where he or she is placed.

In addition, UNICE argues that this issue should not be decided by the Union's social partners but rather at member state level. The unions counter that by calling for rulings in this and other areas to be referred to the national level, UNICE is denying there should be EU rules at all - a sentiment they say is typical of the organisation's attitude to the work of the social partners. "They are not fully committed as a social partner in the way that was originally envisaged," said one union representative.

The social partners are the ETUC, UNICE, small business organisation UEAPME and CEEP, which represents state-owned companies.

Talks aimed at drawing up common rules for temporary staff across the EU have reached an impasse as trade unions accuse employers of trying to obstruct a deal.

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