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EU labour law after the parliamentary elections

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, EU & Arbetsrätt

What new labour legislation can we expect from the EU in the next five years? This depends as much on who becomes Commission President as on what the Parliament has on its wish list.

We already know two things that will be on the agenda: strengthened influence for the European Works Councils and regulations on better working conditions for trainees. We can also expect a proposal for a directive on the right to disconnect.

Parliament may have its wish lists, and these tend to be long (see Bengt Rolfer's articles on this issue), but only the European Commission can initiate legislative procedures. It has no obligation to propose legislation just because Parliament wants it.

That is why it matters who will be Commission President this autumn. Every President has their own priorities. Some also seem more willing to listen to Parliament than others. The current Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, is rumoured to be one of them.

The current Commission has already submitted a couple of proposals for new rules to Parliament. One concerns amendments to the European Works Councils Directive, which gives employees in multinational companies the right to information and consultation on cross-border issues.  

The other is a proposal for a completely new directive on better working conditions for trainees. The purpose is to prevent people who work as regular employees from being called trainees in order for the employer to avoid providing them with the same employment conditions. The current Parliament will not have time to process any of these proposals.

It was also Ursula von der Leyen's Commission that adopted the EU's occupational safety and health strategy for 2021-2027. Some of the plans included in that are heavily delayed and are likely to be high on the list for the new period if she is re-elected. This includes updating both the so-called Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work from 1989 and the Display Screen Equipment Directive from 1990. These are to be modernised because of digitalisation "by 2023 at the latest". 

Another point in the occupational safety and health strategy where a proposal can be expected concerns rules on employees' right to not be constantly connected. Here, the Commission explicitly refers to requests from Parliament. 

The reason these rules have been delayed is that the social partners committed to negotiating a European agreement that would then become an EU directive – but failed to do so. The agreement was not accepted by all employers' organisations, and the issue was returned to the Commission for it to develop a legislative proposal in the usual way. 

So the European Commission plays an important role in this. On the other hand, the Commission is in turn dependent, of course, on the balance of power between different party groups in Parliament and prevailing political majorities in the member states. The Commission must have some sense of which proposals are even worth putting forward. 

If Ursula von der Leyen is re-elected, she is likely to continue to propose measures to implement the EU's social pillar, which many employers and politicians on the right (especially in Sweden) strongly oppose.

It remains to be seen if the talk of "threats" to the labour market models in Sweden and Denmark picks up again after the summer. In any case, trainees' working conditions often fall under collective agreements in any case, which typically provoke defensive reactions in the Nordic countries. 

EU working environment regulations rarely cause similar debate. This is because the protection of health and safety at work is regulated by legislation here as well. Thus, the EU’s working environment regulations do not encroach on the social partners’ turf.


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