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IP/99/187

Brussels, 18 March 1999

Padraig Flynn welcomes new European Agreement on Fixed term contracts

Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, Padraig Flynn, welcomed the signature today by the main trade union and employer's organisations at European level (the ETUC, CEEP, and UNICE) of a European agreement on fixed-term work. Commissioner Flynn noted with satisfaction that "the agreement is a very important contribution from the social partners to the employment strategy". Regarding the content of the agreement Mr Flynn found that "it complements the agreement on part-time work and caters for the main issues raised by the Commission when it launched the consultations under the Social Protocol". These issues centred on the need to remove discrimination against fixed-term workers and to create a framework aiming to prevent abuse of these contracts, and is a fitting response to the Commission's call for greater flexibility and security.

The Commissioner also underlined that this was by far the most politically sensitive and technically difficult issue that the social partners have tackled in formal negotiations at European level as yet and that the successful outcome of the negotiations shows that they are ready to shoulder their new responsibilities under the Amsterdam Treaty. The Commissioner noted finally the symbolic value of the fact that social partners signed the agreement in Warsaw at a major conference on social dialogue and enlargement, marking the importance agreed by all actors to promote the social dialogue in the applicant countries.

The Agreement

In the Preamble to the 1996 agreement on part-time work, UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC announced that they would consider the possibility of negotiations on other forms of atypical work. In March 1998 they began negotiations on fixed-term work. In January 1999, the negotiators finalised a draft agreement, following ratification of the respective organisations' decision making bodies as signed in Warsaw.

As with the parental leave and part-time work agreements, the social partners have decided to formally request the Commission to propose the Agreement as a Directive for adoption by the Council. The Commission will now proceed to examine the content of the agreement as well as the representativeness of the social partners involved, in line with the procedures established with previous agreements.

The Agreement aims to improve the quality of fixed-term work by ensuring the application of the principle of non-discrimination vis-à-vis permanent contracts and the establishment of a framework to prevent possible abuse arising from the use of successive fixed term employment contracts.

Background

The Commission put forward its first proposals in the early 1980's on different forms of atypical work relationships, including part-time and fixed-term work as well as the supply of workers by temporary employment agencies. These proposals resulted in one Directive on safety and health issues for temporary workers and fixed term workers, adopted by the Council in 1991 (OJ C 224 of 8.9.91). There was however little progress on the other issues until December 1994, when the Council confirmed that adoption of the Commission proposals could not be expected in the near future. Commissioner Flynn expressed his deep regret at the failure of the Employment and Social Affairs Council to make substantive progress on these important proposals.

In its Medium Term Social Action Programme for 1995-97, the Commission made it clear that it would launch consultations with the social partners, using the procedure laid down in the Agreement on Social Policy annexed via the Social Protocol to the EC Treaty, in order to determine what further action should be taken.

The Agreement on Social Policy provides for two stages of consultations with the social partners at EU-level. The first stage involves the social partners considering the possible direction of Community action on a special issue. The second stage is triggered by the Commission deciding whether it considers action at Community level appropriate and, if so, consulting the social partners on the possible content of a proposal. It is then up to the social partners, within a six-week period, to deliver an opinion or Recommendation to the Commission, or alternatively to inform the Commission of their wish to embark on a process of negotiations. This negotiation process can take up to nine months and can, if necessary, be extended.

At the end of 1995, the Commission decided to launch a first stage consultation of the social partners at EU level on the issue of flexibility in working time and security for workers. The consultation covered a number of forms of atypical work, including part-time, fixed-term and work supplied via employment agencies. The replies from the social partners showed widespread support for the basic guiding principle that employees in new types of flexible work should not be discriminated against and that they should receive treatment which is comparable to that given to comparable permanent full-time employees.

Subsequently, the Commission launched a second stage consultation in April 1996. The proposed approach tried to strike a balance between:

  • the promotion of new flexible working patterns to enhance the adaptability oft he labour market, and,

  • establishing common binding EU rules to ensure respect for the basic principles of equal treatment for all employees in the new types of flexible work.

In July 1996 the social partners (UNICE, CEEP and the ETUC) began negotiations on part-time work. They signed an agreement on this issue in June 1997. The agreement was welcomed in all circles, including by the European Council. As requested by the signatories, the Commission presented the agreement to the Council as a proposal for a Directive, which was adopted under Article 4 of the Agreement on Social Policy in December 1997.


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