2005 priorities ! WORKING TIME and SERVICES DIRECTIVE
At the beginning of 2005 I would like to extend the Secretariat’s greetings to all of you.
We have witnessed only recently one of the most horrendous disasters in the history of mankind. It is hardly possible to find appropriate words to express the deep shock and sorrow we experience in the face of this tragedy.
As previously, the EPSU Secretariat has refrained from writing Christmas cards to all our affiliates. We have decided instead to donate EUROS 5000, - to the ICFTU support initiative providing targeted help to union members and infrastructures. The ICFTU will report on the use of the monies collected.
To turn to the European political agenda for 2005:
We will continue the public debate on the Draft Constitutional Treaty with referenda to be taken in a number of EU member states in 2005 and 2006.
We are engaged in the preparation of the upcoming Commission Communication on social services of general interest.
We will hold a special EPSU conference on public - private partnerships.
We will enhance our efforts to formalise the social dialogue in the EPSU sectors.
Linking with representatives of the enlarged EU institutions, especially contacts with the European Parliament, will be a top priority.
This circular will deal with two immediate pressing matters:
1. The Draft Services Directive
In an address to the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee in week 51 of 2004, the European Internal Market and Services Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, made it clear that he believes that the thrust of the Draft Services Directives goes in the right direction. The country of origin principle, according to McCreevy, will “guarantee the necessary legal certainty by avoiding that cross-border services are subject to a multitude of different rules”.
EPSU maintains its opposition against the proposed directive in its current form, as do the ETUC and other European Industry Federations. In contrast to McCreevy’s statement, the ‘country of origin’ principle risks to promote the competition of 25 different legal systems within the European Union and is thus far from providing legal certainty.
Notwithstanding the intransigent position of the European Commission, also many, if not most national governments see the draft Directive as an instrument to promote growth and employment in the services sector, even if they may have certain criticisms and reservations (e.g. country of origin, inclusion of the health sector, impact on the labour market and labour law). A number of unions are involved in awareness raising events/campaigns on the directive (e.g. Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Austria, Iceland, the UK etc.) In some countries discussions have, or are taking place, in tripartite bodies, which is very useful. Affiliates are encouraged to develop common positions with governments, parliaments, and other organisations opposed to all or parts of the Directive.
It is good also to see affiliates publishing material that explains the directive and the potential threats it poses. Some member unions have also made the link with the European campaign on the draft services directive. EPSU alongside the ETUC and other federations have mounted a campaign which have so far culminated in two demonstrations.
The trade union demonstrations organised to coincide with the Hearing of the European Parliament on 11 November and at the Competitiveness Council on 25 November showed that there is scope to build momentum against the Draft Directive through awareness-raising and by keeping the issue in the press. Mounting opposition to the directive is also building up from the wider civil society.
EPSU’s next steps and future strategy regarding the draft Directive will be determined by the upcoming Steering Committee in February. The two lead rapporteurs of the European Parliament, Evelyne Gebhardt and Anne Van Lanker, are in the process of drawing up a “strategy paper”. Gebhardt and Van Lanker intend at this stage, to present different options for dealing with the Directive rather than proposing specific amendments. The Luxembourg Presidency aims to ‘restore some level of calm’ into the debate and will also produce a working document on the draft directive in January. The first reading of the Directive in the European Parliament is not expected to take place before June 2005.
In any event, it is important for the EPSU Secretariat and affiliates to maintain regular contact on pertinent developments. We need to further step up joint efforts to sensitise our members on the stakes represented by the draft directive. Such a coordinated sensitisation campaign should dovetail with the ETUC Spring demonstration that will be organised on 19 March 2005 in Brussels.
2. Working Time Directive
The Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, Spidla received a small EPSU delegation on 29 November 2004. We reiterated our main concerns in the current debate on the revision of the Working Time Directive. The opt-out: Commission’s proposal still allows for opt-outs whenever there is no collective agreement! That not only allows the current situation in the UK to continue but it also puts trade unions under pressure elsewhere to allow for individual opt-outs. It risks to undermine existing collective agreements and it defeats the purpose of European framework legislation as a safety net, collective agreement usually providing for better conditions than legislation. Legislation has to protect those not covered by collective agreement.
As demanded by the European Parliament ‘individual opt-outs’ need to be phased out.
On call-duty: The proposal only defines the ‘active part’ of on-call duty at the workplace as working time. Such an arrangement would deprive many workers in many sectors, in health care, but not only in health care, of the opportunity to have appropriate and compensatory rest periods after long hours of work, very often in situations where a full day’s work has been followed up by an on-call night shift. This approach is unacceptable. It violates the conclusions of three successive judgements of the European Court of Justice, namely SIMAP, Jäger and most recently Pfeiffer. All three cases have defined on call duty at the work place as working time. This position also ignores the point of view of the European Parliament, calling on the Commission to investigate with social partners to come up with temporary measures that do however not prejudice the basic principle of protection and limitation of maximum working hours. In the context of the draft services directive the Commission claims to be bound by ECJ rulings, this should apply as well in this instance. Since the SIMAP case three years have elapsed and hence precious time wasted.
Reference period: The proposed extension of the reference period to 12 months means the de facto introduction of annualised working hours. This could lead to very long and irregular daily and weekly working hours. The proposal runs counter the Commission’s obligation to promote collective bargaining. It puts into risk existing agreements of balanced forms of negotiated flexibility.
The working time directive is a centrepiece of European social legislation. If it were watered down this would be a devastating signal to millions of workers and citizens. Indeed, the Commission would be considered to have caved in to unilateral pressures from the employers’ side.
The European Parliament will hold a hearing on the Working Time Directive on 17 January to which EPSU has been invited. We will keep you informed on any further developments.
Dear Colleagues, the draft services directive and the revision of the working time directive will be the two most pressing issues on the European trade union agenda in the coming months. The further evolution of these dossiers could also have an important bearing on the upcoming referenda on the European Constitutional Treaty. We will only be able to influence the debates of national and European decision-making institutions if we effectively cooperate and coordinate under the EPSU and ETUC umbrellas.
I therefore count on your continued active support to EPSU’s work. With our best wishes for a peaceful 2005, I remain,
Carola Fischbach-Pyttel EPSU General Secretary