Attempt to cut European red tape splits opinion

There has been a mixed reaction to the European Commission’s decision to scrap or reconsider a number of pieces of EU legislation, including controversial proposals for temporary workers.

Employers welcomed the moves, but union leaders said the decision on temporary workers was a “major setback”.

Gunter Verheugen, European commissioner for enterprise and industry, last week published a list of 68 draft regulations to be scrapped or reworked.

The aim of the cull is to ensure that the EU’s legislation is more tightly focused on competitiveness. Verheugen also said he was seeking to “counter the idea that the EU is a bureaucratic monster with a mania for regulation”.

The main piece of legislation that will concern employers is the Temporary Agency Workers Directive.

In its current form the directive proposes that temps should get equal rights to permanent employees after six weeks – a suggestion that employers are universally opposed to.

However, the announcement that it will be reviewed was welcomed by employers’ groups, such as the CBI and the manufacturers organisation EEF, which said the directive, as it stands, presents a “serious threat to the flexibility of the UK labour market”.

Steven Coventry, European campaigns adviser at the EEF, sounded a note of caution, however, warning that the move to “reconsider” the temporary workers directive could work both ways.

“We welcome the fact the commission is looking at unnecessary legislation, but the language used on the directive is opaque,” he said. “There is always a danger that the [EC] might, in fact, want to strengthen the law after reviewing it – we would have liked stronger words.”

In contrast, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the announcement gave “a green light to those unscrupulous employers who will continue to exploit agency workers”.

“For four years the agency workers directive has been blocked by various governments including our own and it is now destined to sit on a Brussels shelf for many more years to come,” he said. “Agency workers deserve a better deal.”

Other pieces of employer-related legislation that will be reviewed include the Optical Radiation Directive, which compels organisations to protect workers from harmful forms of light, such as UV rays. After complaints from employers, the commission has agreed to exempt natural sunlight from the provisions.

But despite this alteration, the EEF said: “We continue to believe that this remains a bad piece of legislation that will merely impose an unnecessary burden on our members for no apparent health benefit.”

Coventry said the EEF was also disappointed that the commission did not reconsider the Working Time Directive, although he acknowledged that political pressures meant this was unlikely.

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