MEP report set to reignite feud over workers’ rights

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Series Details Vol.7, No.35, 27.9.01, p4
Publication Date 27/09/2001
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Date: 27/09/01

By John Shelley

MEPS and member states are squaring up for a battle over controversial plans to give workers the right to be consulted on key management decisions.

Italian socialist Fiorella Ghilardotti, the Parliament's rapporteur on the issue, says an agreement reached by member states after more than two years of negotiations does not go far enough.

Her objections threaten to unravel the delicately wrought deal that allowed the Swedish presidency to finally clinch agreement on the plans in June. Ghilardotti insists that the proposals must be backed with tough penalties for companies that break the rules and has dismissed seven-year transition periods negotiated by some member states as unreasonable.

"The Parliament can't afford to accept the Council's position," she said.

The consultation rules were agreed by member states despite fierce objections from the UK and Ireland, who had complained that the measures constituted an unnecessary meddling in national affairs.

However, that objection melted away following a rash of redundancies across the bloc where in some cases, notably that of Marks & Spencer, workers first heard they were to lose their jobs through the media.

Both the Parliament and member states hope the new rules would make that impossible as they would oblige all but very small companies to involve unions and works councils in their decision-making.

However Ghilardotti says the Parliament should insist that all countries be given only two years to prepare for the changes. Under the Swedish deal, Denmark, the UK and Ireland were offered seven years to adjust, everyone else three.

She also insists the laws be redrafted to make sure consultation takes place before a decision is made and does not simply become a meaningless rubber-stamping exercise.

But other MEPs, anxious to avoid a lengthy conciliation procedure between the Parliament and member states, have called for compromise.

French centre-right deputy Marie-Thérèse Hermange, vice-president of the assembly's employment committee, argued against tough penalties for firms. "Imposing these kind of sanctions could from time to time paralyse companies and run against the interests of employees," she said.

British Conservative Philip Bushill-Matthews said the Parliament should accept the deal agreed by member states.

MEPs and Member States are squaring up for a battle over controversial plans to give workers the right to be consulted on key management decisions.

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