|Author (Person)||Neligan, Myles|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.4, No.46, 17.12.98, p2|
|Content Type||Journal | Series | Blog|
NINE months of talks between trade unions and employers over possible EU rules to protect workers on temporary contracts have stalled one week short of the negotiating deadline imposed by the European Commission.
If the two sides fail to reach a mutually acceptable compromise by next Wednesday (23 December), the institution will have to break the deadlock by proposing its own set of rules or extend the negotiating deadline.
The prospect of a breakdown in the talks, just days after Union leaders meeting in Vienna called for "increased involvement and responsibility of the social partners", looks set to undermine further the Commission's strategy of encouraging bosses and workers to settle their differences voluntarily through the 'social dialogue'.
The latest round of discussions, initiated in March, was intended to produce agreement on basic rules governing employers' use of fixed-term contracts.
The move came in response to figures showing that fixed-term workers - who have little job security, are statistically more likely to suffer injury in the workplace and have restricted access to financial services such as mortgages and bank loans - make up an increasingly high proportion of the EU workforce.
The rules under discussion would restrict employers' right to hire workers on a fixed-term basis, and would oblige bosses to offer such employees permanent work once their contracts had been renewed a certain number of times.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) argues that fixed-term contracts should be considered the exception to the norm of permanent work, but employers counter that the flexibility provided by such arrangements is essential to continued growth in employment.
Talks between ETUC and European employers' federation UNICE faltered late last month over the issue of possible waivers from the rules for certain categories of employer.
The two sides were due to meet again today (17 December) to search for a last-minute deal, but the chances of agreement are understood to be slim.
Earlier this week, ETUC sources said that they were preparing to ask the Commission to extend the negotiating deadline. Members of the UNICE team stressed that the talks had not broken down, but said they were very doubtful that the 23 December deadline would be met.
Commission officials say that they are monitoring the discussions, and will extend the deadline if they are asked to do so. "If an approach is made, we will look at it very sympathetically," said a senior aide to Employment Commissioner Pádraig Flynn.
The negotiating period is likely to be extended by six weeks, giving bosses and workers until early February to reach a deal.
The social dialogue suffered a major setback in October when UNICE flatly refused to discuss possible rules obliging bosses to consult workers over all decisions affecting jobs and working conditions for the second time.
Their first refusal, in March, led the institution to extend the original nine-month negotiating period by a further six months. Subsequently, Flynn acknowledged that the social dialogue had failed and unveiled his own proposal for rules on worker consultation.
|Subject Categories||Employment and Social Affairs|