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|SINCE 1988, WHEN FORMER EU COMMISSION PRESIDENT Jacques Delors gave his famous speech to the British Trades Union Congress, UK union members have had to look towards Brussels for any laws which might improve their situation at work. There were substantial achievements such as the Working Time directive, two measures on anti-discrimination and the giant REACH programme on dangerous chemicals. During the second Commission presided over by Manuel Barroso however, the pace of new legislation slowed considerably while the opposite tendency became apparent: deregulation. Between 2009 and 2010 the number of new EU acts adopted fell by three-quarters and continued at this reduced level. From about the same time the system of impact assessments, which examined proposed legislation for costs to business, was beefed up and then in 2013, the REFIT programme was introduced. The Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme had as its objective to ‘make EU law lighter, simpler and less costly’ but this soon proved to involve scrapping existing laws often in the field of labour and environmental protection. The first list announced by the European Commission amounted to the repeal of 7 pieces of legislation and the abandoning of 9 proposals for new directives. By June 2014 this had grown to 133 repeals and||
||simplifications and 53 withdrawals including important health and safety measures like those on musculo-skeletal disorders, environmental tobacco smoke and carcinogens and mutagens (see article on page 7). Trade union analyses by bodies such as the ETUI (European Trade Union Institute) have focused on the gradual shift in objective from reducing ‘administrative’ to ‘regulatory’ burdens on business where all laws are seen as ‘costly’. The new European Commission under President Juncker has continued this drift in abandoning 53 proposals and announcing only 14 new laws as opposed to the 39 referred to in the legislative agenda for 2013, the last full year of the Barroso Commission. It is not easy to identify a single cause of this decline, the influence of the Eurosceptic U.K. government has been felt in the exemption of small businesses from certain laws and direct business lobbying e.g. in the Stoiber group (see article below) has played a part but the need to accommodate the U.S.A. as a negotiating partner in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) looms large. According to the ETUI the new EU drive is ‘in line with policy approaches developed in the US since the early 1980s The future TTIP looks set to be based on the same ... principles, with deregulation high on the agenda’.|
Number of adopted EU acts by year (1996-2013)
TRADE UNIONS IN IRELAND HAVE SUCCESSFULLY used European comparisons to negotiate pay rises in the private sector as the country begins to emerge from its disastrous economic slump. After the era of a centralised partnership with government and employers finished in 2009 there followed a period of pay cuts and lay-offs but the adoption of a 2% target by Ireland’s largest union SIPTU, with reference to the German chemicals sector, has led to about 70 wage settlements. The union estimates that around three-quarters of its members in pharmaceutical companies have received the pay rise but it has also spread to the food and drink, electrical engineering and retail sectors. However a survey by ‘Industrial Relations News’ found no appetite among employers for a return to national wage bargaining as there was ‘no sense that a large majority of firms feel the economy is now on a strong current of recovery’.
THE ITALIAN SOCIAL PARTNERS HAVE REACHED AGREEMENT on guidelines for the ‘growth of productivity and competitiveness in Italy’. The deal defines which topics are dealt with by national negotiations and which are considered at company and local level. Working time flexibility and pay are to be worked out firm by firm with the aim of improving productivity. One area that is covered is performance pay. Extra payments for overtime, productivity, quality, efficiency and innovation, up to a maximum of €3,000 per year will attract a tax rate of only 10%. Social security contributions for both workers and employers will also be reduced. This will only apply to the private sector where a performance pay agreement must have been concluded at local level and be registered with the labour office. Most unions and employers’ organisations are happy with the measure although the government has only signed up for one year and can change the rules on an annual basis.
RECOMMENDATIONS FROM UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS IN FINLAND have led to the passing of a law on training which will allow companies to claim tax deductions. In 2013 the call for three days of professional development per year for all workers was ratified by the government which stressed the need for a flexible and knowledgeable workforce. Now the new law makes it compulsory for all employers who have more than 20 employees to offer individual training plans, either internally or through hiring external providers. Trainees must be paid their normal wage, half of which can be claimed against tax. Social partner reactions have been generally favourable with criticisms centring around the 20-employee limit, although the academics’ trade union is opposed to the tax deductions.