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ISSUE 48 page 4

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Council of Ministers sign new parental leave directive, disability convention

THE MEETING OF THE EMPLOYMENT MINISTERS from EU Member States in December proved fertile in two areas of employment and social legislation. The ESPHCA Council, as it is officially known, gave its seal of approval to an agreement between the social partners on extending parental leave. They also signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first international human rights agreement in which the EU has been represented as a whole. European unions and employers updated the original parental leave deal, from 1995, in the summer. The new directive, which must be implemented by individual countries within two years, lengthens the minimum leave period from three to four months for each parent per child. The extra month may not be transferred between mothers and fathers thereby encouraging men to take it. There is also a right to request a change of hours on returning to work, on a temporary basis. These rights apply to all workers regardless of their contract of employment i.e. part time, temporary etc. but among the decisions left to national governments are whether to insist on a minimum time in the job before they come into effect, which can be set at no more than one year. All questions of payment during the leave are also left to Member States.
By signing the UN convention the Council committed the EU to examining and revising discrimination legislation, policies and programmes to ensure that there is equal access to education, employment, transport and buildings open to the public. This is its intention in proposing a new directive which extends protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief beyond the workplace (see issue 43) but this measure has had its scope and provisions fought over. The European Disability Forum (EDF) which signed a joint declaration with the European Trade Union Confederation in 2007 to promote access to employment and training, feels that it has been watered down and lacks specificity. It points particularly to the 'disproportionate burden' definition which could be used by companies as a loophole to avoid making proper provision for people with disabilities. They also underline the lack of consultation but still hope that negotiations in the Council of Ministers can improve it 'It could happen that the Commission is asked to redraw it or produce a new proposal, which might be a preferable option to us if the final text is not satisfactory' says EDF President Carlotta Besozzi. It is not clear where the discussions in the Council, which have been going on for over a year, have reached but the December meeting threw no new light on its progress. The EDF hopes that signing the UN convention will be a spur to addressing discrimination that seems to be increasing as the economic slump bites.

Finnish unions pioneer holiday bank for temps
EU fund offers help to sacked Irish workers
TEMPORARY AND FIXED TERM CONTRACT workers in Finland could be in for longer holidays if an idea from the federation that organises clerical employees, ERTO, is accepted by the government. They want such workers to be able to bank accrued holidays when they leave one employer and join another. According to the Chair of ERTO temporary working has become so common that the term 'atypical' which is usually used to refer to them has become out-dated. About 400,000 workers are on fixed-term contracts, many of them young and employed by the public sector. Because leave entitlement rises with the length of time worked in the company these temps are discriminated against in terms of amount of holiday earned as well as the difficulty of actually taking substantial time off. Both the Finnish confederation of trade unions, SAK, and individual unions have backed the proposal but employers' organisation EK rejected it as too expensive and bureaucratic. The trade union proposal is to be presented to the Finnish government before the end of the year. these factors the report found that women still earned 12% less than men with the same skills and of the same age.
NEARLY THREE THOUSAND WORKERS made redundant by American computer company Dell in Ireland are to receive funding from the EU's European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF). The money is to help the workers to re-integrate into the labour market by supporting retraining, job guidance, job search, business set-up and allowances for educational courses. The total cost of the package is €23 million, €14.8 million of which will come from the EU. The EGF was originally set up in 2006 to assist people made redundant due to company restructuring (see issue 44) brought on by globalisation but the European Commission recently lowered the bar for applications to open up the under-used fund to victims of the financial crash. Support can run for up to two years and provide a maximum of 65% of the total. The Irish government viewed Dell as a key employer in the mid-west region around Limerick, an area of high unemployment. Dara Calleary, the Minister for Labour Affairs recommended the measures as 'first-class and are designed with the needs and preferences of the workers in mind'. So far this year 17 application have been made to the EGF compared to 13 in 2008 and 2007 combined.

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