The EU and the new Labor Directive

Back in 1991 the European Union, at the time still EEC, had just started tidying up the complicated matter of labor law. In particular, the focus was laid on the applicable conditions included in work contracts and work relationships. Then a 20 year long silence, time in which -without the need of being expert analyst-  european society has undergone heavy transformations, and this field is naturally not exempted from it.

Although largely delayed, the European commission has then restarted talks by pushing forward a new directive in this field  (Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions) and within the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In a nutshell, the proposal defines a common EU worker definition, and aims at establishing new rights which are hoped to have a positive impact on the most precarious forms of employment. According to the Eurofund, 20%  of workers in the union can be classified as ‘low skilled labour’. This entails different forms of non standardized and new labour, such as 0 hour contract, occasional work, domestic work, voucher based employment, or platform workers i.e. Uber. The famous Driver-entrepreneurs are in fact, the symbol of these new players –half autonomous and independent yet linked to digital platforms, which were born thanks the sharing economy trend and which are still slipping through the fingers of communitarian law.  

The Content of the Directive

In detail, the commission has proposed six wide rights.The right to request more comprehensive outlines and information on the position’s key aspects, which the employee would have to receive in written form within the first day of activity. Additionally, a limit will be imposed to trial periods. The right to find an additional job, along with the prohibition of exclusivity and limitations to the incompatibility clauses was also proposed.In the stance of flexible hours determined by a third party, such as in work on demand, employees will have the right to know when the activity will take place. Employees should from now also expect a written letter from the employer, in case they requested to be moved to a permanent or full time position. Finally the new bill includes the right to free and mandatory training.

The proposal, intends to protect European Competitiveness. In fact, the commission, is focusing on a number of long term effects. The first objective is to increase competitiveness of firms against the ones who made occasional work the nucleus of their business model.The majority of businesses in the EU, including SMEs, does indeed only make marginal use of non-permanent positions.The second objective lies in transparency and predictability of working conditions, which indeed render employees more innovative and productive. In this sense, the proposal supports what has always been Europe’s competitive advantage: quality and innovation rather than lacking labor policies.

The positions of Unions and Employer Organisations

The ‘Behind the Scenes’  equally deserves a quick look. The commission aims to guarantee common protection for all employees, also the ones which are not covered by collective agreements. Yet it deems social parties should negotiate agreements – as determined by EU law- which could respond to specific national or sector needs. Brussels’ executive has therefore consulted unions and employer organisations for them to settle an agreement. However, the social parties had different views on the necessity of a legislation. The foundations to start direct negotiations were unfortunately missing. Unions were indeed, enthusiastically supportive to the norms’ update and suggested additional ones. A wide majority of employer organisations, did instead oppose the application of the directive and the amplification of new rights.

The Next Moves

The commission will now pass the ball to the European Parliament and European Council, which will have to approve the document. They will however be allowed to modify it in a first and second reading. A conciliation committee will have to be convened in case of an unsuccessful  agreement after the second reading. The latter will propose an additional revision -which if accepted by both Parliament and Council- will represent the official legislative act. After consolidation, countries will start to play a role. Indeed, they will have a two year timeframe since the introduction of the directive to adapt national law to what is enunciated from the Union’s bill.

The legislative act indeed, sets an objective which all the EU Nations will then have to adopt. However, it is their individual responsibility to define how these objectives will be reached. Simply said, this is the first, timid step, towards what seems to be the right direction. It still has to be seen what side the Parliament -which in this case shares powers equally with the Council- will take. In fact, It could have the power to push the proposal towards an extension of these rights, with the support of unions, yet with a wider approval timeframe.

Translation by Chiara Laura Zin

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