• In setting its agenda for the next six months, the new French presidency of the EU Council of Ministers hopes to move forward on the outstanding worker’s rights legislation – notably the directive on Information and Consultation of employees. Hopes for an early resolution of the deadlock on the European Company Statute are fading, with no sign of Spain relaxing its stance that the proposal would have unacceptable implications for its national system of worker consultation.
Anti-discrimination in all its forms is also a major priority, with an entire directive being adopted by the Social Affairs Council.
A fast-track response to the election of an extreme right-wing party to power in the Austrian government, the Directive of Racial and Ethnic Origins prohibits discrimination in employment, education, social security, healthcare and access to goods and services. The aim is to ensure that victims have comparable rights of redress in all member states and that the burden of proof will be shifted to the accused.
This proposal is one of three anti-discrimination proposals put forward last November. The second, the Directive on Discrimination on Employment, widens the scope of anti-discrimination to include race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Concern has been voiced by the Economic and Social Committee that employers’ liability for harassment is limited to situations clearly under their control, and to those where the employer has knowledge of and has tolerated the harassment.
The third proposal is for an action programme to support and complement implementation of the directives over the six-year period 2001-2006, through exchange of information, experience and best practice in both legislative and non-legislative areas.
Sexual harassment and anti-discrimination
• As part of the French presidency commitment, the amendment of the Directive on Equality between Men and Women in the Workplace – training and working conditions, to include a definition of sexual harassment – has been proposed by the commission. Victims will have access to remedies such as compensation or job moves within an organisation.
Countries such as Finland and the UK will probably not have to make changes to their national law as they have a strong body of case law. However, only France and Belgium have sufficient legislation, with Greece and Portugal having none at all.
The purpose of the directive, as declared by Commissioner Diamantopoulou, is preventative, “by establishing a community framework for sexual harassment, we draw attention to the problem throughout Europe and create a momentum among employers to take their own steps to stamp it out”.
Look out for:
• The third Benchmarking Report – Stimulating Creativity and Innovation in Europe – published in May by the Union of Industrial and Employer’s Confederations of Europe. It focuses on the political and economic factors influencing the drop in Europe’s levels of innovation as compared with the US and Japan. Web site: www.unice.org
• European Court ruling in Case C-78/98 Shirley Preston and Others v Wolverhampton Healthcare NHS trust and Others, and Dorothy Fletcher and Others v Midland Bank: enabling British part-time employees to claim retroactive pension rights
Review of Pregnant Workers directive to:
• Extend leave entitlement to 20 weeks
• Include a mandatory eight-week postnatal recovery period
• Define “adequate allowance during maternity leave” with 80 per cent previous salary as minimum
• Prohibit dismissal during pregnancy and maternity leave
• ensure binding entitlement for rest for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace
• Define stricter rules regarding night work during pregnancy
2001 European year of Languages
• A budget of eight million euros has been allocated for project financing with the aim of encouraging multi-lingualism, and encouraging lifelong learning of languages from play school and primary school.A web site will be available for promotion and information purposes. For general information on commission programmes and information the web site address is www.europa.eu.int