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ISSUE 55 page 6

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UK asbestos law must be changed says European Commission

The European Commission routinely examines the implementation of European Directives in Member States and issues ‘reasoned opinions’ when it finds that an infringement has occurred. Acting on a complaint from the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) it has ruled that the UK has not fully implemented the Protection from Asbestos Directive.

In 2003 the EU amended a directive dating from 1983 on the ‘protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work’. As usual Member States were given three years to translate it into national law. The British government responded with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 but both trade unions and ARCA were not satisfied because they felt that in the case of ‘sporadic and low intensity exposure’ to the substance two crucial sentences, which had been adopted by all the other Member States, had been left out. Thus exemptions from notification, medical surveillance and health record-keeping were drawn too widely, ignoring possible deterioration of the asbestos during removal. When the directive was codified in 2009, the government had until the beginning of 2010 to make sure British law complied but they did nothing on the basis that the 2006 regulations would suffice. In February this year, following a detailed analysis of the ARCA complaint, the Commission asked the UK to change British law  explaining that ‘The UK legislation currently focuses on the measurement of exposure to asbestos and not enough on how the material will be affected by the work itself’. This ‘reasoned opinion’ gave the government two months to remedy the regulations and fully implement the directive or face prosecution in the European Court of Justice.
After looking carefully at the reasoned opinion the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) admitted that it had under-implemented the directive and promised the Commission that the law would be changed. This is likely to have serious consequences for British employers as, even under the current regulations, 14 companies have been prosecuted this year incurring a total of £272.000 in fines. ‘This is another nail in the coffin of the myth that the HSE has been “gold-plating regulation”. European regulations are there to protect workers, and governments should see them as being minimum standards rather than trying to weasel out of their commitments’



Recent rulings from the European Courts

German pensions: civil partnership equals marriage

ThyssenKrupp in UK court after unprecedented jail term for Italian boss

German employers suffered another pensions-related defeat in a case before the ECJ recently. Mr. Römer   worked for Hamburg City Council for 40 years, retiring in 1990. Having lived continuously with a male companion since 1969, he registered a civil partnership, when this became possible under German law in 2001, and requested that he be treated as a ‘married pensioner‘. The council refused the request, worth an extra €302.11 per month, on the grounds that Mr.Römer’s status was ‘permanently separated’. However the court ruled that this infringed the Equal Treatment in Employment directive of 2000 and was discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Italian courts have made history by passing a sentence of 161/2 years in jail on Harald Espenhahn, the head of German company ThyssenKrupp’s Italian steel division. The punishment, together with long jail terms for other managers and a €1 million fine, follows a fire that killed seven workers in 2007 at a Turin plant that was being run down. A subsequent strike and demonstration (see issue 41) led to promises by the government to improve safety laws. For the first time a Chief Executive has been found responsible for ‘voluntary homicide’ and the court also excluded the company from both subsidy and advertising for six months. The FIOM metalworkers’ union, who had accused the firm of losing interest in the plant, welcomed the ruling saying ‘When workers are injured or killed at the workplace it's never by chance, it's always somebody's responsibility’. ThyssenKrupp is also being prosecuted in the UK over the death of an employee at a car parts factory at Bishop Auckland

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