EU | Employment Law & Social Policy

Health, safety and working conditions measures introduced by the European Union represent some of the most successful aspects of workers’ protection in the Member States of the Community.

There has been an increase in the process of decision making by regulation within the European Union, under which the Commission has been able to issue a large number of Directives which essentially change the way in which a considerable number of policy actions are effectively determined. This can be seen in areas such as consumer protection, employment law and health and safety. It is these Directives that affect health, safety and working conditions.

There have been many Directives introduced by the European Union in order to protect health and promote safety in the work place. Directives  have been introduced to encourage improvements in the safety and heath of workers at work in order to ensure a high quality of protection through preventative measures such as training, information and consultations. Training is very important as it increases the skills of a worker in order to achieve high productivity and high quality employment.

There are individual Directives which deal with workplaces, use of work equipment, protective equipment, manual handling, carcinogens, biological agents, safetysigns, pregnant workers, mineral-extracting industries, fishing vessels, chemical agents, temporary or mobile construction sites, physical agents such as noise and vibration and working with display screen equipment (Barnard, 2000). Directives relating to health and safety and working conditions do not only affect full time workers, it also affects temporary workers.

It has been said that safety and health risks of women at work tend to be underestimated and even neglected, hence it is important to integrate safety and health into education so that people are aware of risks that may be faced and therefore are capable of dealing with them.

The working time Directive (Directive 2003\88\EC), contains some of the most controversial aspects as to whether this directive is in fact a health and safety measure and therefore a great success or whether it is a social policy. This Directive and the Young Workers Directive 94/33/EC were both adopted and moved this area from soft law and formed keypillars of the Social Charter Action Programme. This Directive applies to “workers” which is “any person employed by an employer, including trainees and apprentices but excluding domestic servants”.

The framework Directive is fully applicable to the working time Directive but where there are areas of conflict, the framework Directive applies. If an employer does not take into account what is mentioned in the Directives the limits are enforced by way of criminal proceedings and entitlements through civil action in an Employment Tribunal.

The Working Time Directive deals with daily and weekly rest periods and annual leave. These are not harmonized though throughout all the member states as a member state can derogate from some Articles provided that due regard is paid to the protection of the workers’ health and safety.

On the 22nd of September 2004, the Commission decided to aim to tighten the conditions under which individual employees may opt out of the 48-hour limit on average weekly working time in order to increase the levels of health, safety and working conditions. There are many more aspects included within the working time Directive such as night work and collective agreements. The main characteristic of the working time Directive is that it is flexible and strives to achieve a balance between ‘flexibility and security’.

Directives have also been introduced that deal with specific risk groups such as pregnant workers,young workers, and the Directive on Atypical Workers. Pregnant workers must be protected from exposure to chemicals, physical and biological agents, they should not work nights and should be allowed days off for ante-natal examinations. They should also be protected against dismissal when on maternity leave. The young workers Directive is important as it prevents abuse of labour of younger workers and also ensures that the young workers receive training that will benefit them later on in life.

The part time workers Directive is another Directive in order to ensure that all areas regarding the term ‘workers’ are covered.

The Fixed Term Work Directive applies to “fixed term workers who have an employment contract or an employment relationship as defined in law, collective agreement or practice in each member state”.

A fixed term worker is defined as a “…person having an employment contract or relationship entered into directly between an employer and a worker where the end of the employment contract of relationship is determined by the objective condition such as reaching a specific date, completing a specific task, or the occurrence of a specific event” (Barnard).

This is a very important Directive as it provides for non discrimination with regards to fixed term workers and permanent workers, it also prevents abuse of fixed term contracts. It also allows for the right to information which requires that employers inform fixed term workers about vacancies which become available in the undertaking or establishment.

These Directives regarding workers have prevented discrimination whilst creating a more flexible workforce. It has been argued however that temporary workers would be better protected by a fixed scheme that recognises all of the employment rights (Barnard).

Attention has also been given to the working conditions and has been critical not only to the health and safety of employees but also how it affects an employee’s state of mind and work ethic. It is covered by several Directives. An employee hopes his/her working environment is safe but before the Proof of Employment Directive these obligations of employer and employees were not clear. Due to this Directive, all rights and obligations of employee and employers must be clearly written in a document so that there can be transparency.

This Directive applies to every paid employee having a contract or employment relationship. Member states can exclude though those employees who have a contract of employment for less than a month and those employees who work casually. This is in order for there to be increased flexibility. The employer must notify employees of essential aspects of their contract, some of which are the place of work, the title, grade, nature or category of work, the date of the commencement of the contract, the duration of the contract (if the work is temporary), the amount of leave that is paid, the length of the normal working day and week, the identity of the parties and other areas.

This information must be given not more that two months after the commencement of employment and if the employee is going to work abroad the relevant information regarding the job will have to be given such as the currency to be used for payment. If the information regarding the job changes this must be conveyed to the employee as soon as possible and at the first opportunity.

This Directive does not influence the exact content of the contract between the parties, this is a matter that concerns only the parties. The concern of the Directive is to make sure that the information is conveyed and that there is transparency (Barnard).

If employers do not abide by the regulations set out within the Directive, an employee can seek a claim through judicial process. The remedies are then dealt with by the Member states.

Pay is also covered within this Directive. It provides that “all employment shall be fairly remunerated; to this effect, in accordance with arrangements applying in each country, workers shall be assured of an equitable wage, i.e. a wage sufficient to enable them to have a decent standard of living”(Barnard). Though this does not specifically mention the idea of minimum wage, the fact that the wage set has to be equivalent to the cost of living shows that anything below that would not count as sufficient remuneration for the work done. The approach taken by the Commission is in order to prevent discriminatory wage practices, to promote social harmony and social development, to encourage there to be investment in order to train employees so that there are greater skills on the market and to make sure that the idea of low paid groups is reassessed (Barnard).

Health, safety and working conditions measures have been introduced successfully by the European Union. This protects the workers in the Member states and encourages productivity because a worker with job satisfaction and security is one that is greater inspired to work productively. The Directives mentioned above have created a good base level for labour standards and greater flexibility within the workforce. All these Directives have though an economic role to play as workers directly affect the market and it can be argued that for there to be greater success it is important for the benefits to workers to be made solely for social purposes and for social harmony. It is therefore important for the EU to not just elaborate and replicate national accomplishments, but to create a regulatory body that establishes its own attainments.