|The Courier N° 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)|
|The European social area|
Social policy has thus at its disposal three novel instruments which have already been described in some detail. However, the programme for shaping the social area of the Community comprises not only new instruments and measures as yet untried; the Community will also make use of the instruments which have been created in the 30 years since it was established in Rome.
The reform of the Structural Funds
The decision to double the resources of the Regional Fund and the Social Fund which was finally taken at the special summit held in February 1988 in Brussels, was a crucial element of Community social policy. The Structural Funds help to improve the economic and social cohesion of the Community. After the available resources had been fixed for five years, the Commission and the Council of Ministers adopted specific provisions for the operation of the Funds. Both institutions are responsible for ensuring improved coordination between the two Funds.
By supporting the exchange of information and experience, the Commission is helping to improve the level of education in the Community. The most important target group in this work is those young people who find it difficult to integrate into working life. The Commission proposes that the entitlement to educational leave be introduced throughout the Community in order to give all workers the chance to improve their professional qualifications.
It is planned to conduct a programme of action for adult education, which will be targeted, first and foremost, at workers in small and medium-sized companies. A similar scheme is planned for young people in order to help them to integrate more easily into working life. Following a suggestion from the Council of 1 December 1987, the Commission is drawing up a European policy on education initiatives. The aim is to produce vocational training measures which will be available in all the Member States and will help young people to acquire entrepreneurial skills.
Eurotecnet is a scheme which has been running since 1983 and is designed to promote vocational education in the field of new information technologies. New developments in this sector are first investigated and then passed on to interested parties in the most effective way possible.
Measures for harmonising working conditions and industrial relations in line with progress
Hygiene, safety and health protection al work. The Commission has drawn up six proposals for Directives on the improvement of safety and conditions at work, and presented them to the Council of Ministers. Many additional proposals will follow. All of the proposals fall under Article 118A of the EEC Treaty. After consulting management and labour and small and medium-sized firms in committees, the Council will reach a decision on the proposals by qualified majority.
An example would be the proposal of 24 April 1988, in which the Commission proposed minimum requirements for safety and health protection for work with visual display units. In the same year the Commission drew up a proposal for a Directive, which provides for workers in all Member States who handle heavy loads to be protected from the risk of back injury.
Furthermore, the Commission considers it necessary to introduce a series of rules for the reduction of major risks in shipping, fishing, agriculture and the building industry. In the area of health protection and hygiene, it seems appropriate to protect all workers in the Community against carcinogenic, biological and chemical substances at their place of work and to take the necessary steps to improve occupational medicine. In this context, it is essential that workers be informed about potential dangers resulting from the substances with which they come into contact at work. On the one hand, there must be suitable programmes to ensure that workers are informed of potential danger areas and, on the other, specialists with responsibility in this field will have to be appointed to official bodies or directly in firms.
Possible proposals for other provisions of labour legislation and company law. The Commission is not only considering minimum requirements which are valid throughout the Community and are directly connected to conditions at work, but also intends to propose general rules governing the basic rights of workers. In this way, account is to be taken of new developments resulting from the completion of the internal market, changes in the labour market and different recruitment practices. Workers are, for example, to be protected against the social hardship which could result from the growing mobility of firms.
The Commission plans, inter alia, to introduce a code of conduct for the protection of pregnant women and mothers.
The involvement of workers in the management of companies which operate on an international basis is a particularly contentious issue. As early as 1970, the Commission had drawn up a proposal for the articles of association for a European joint stock company, and the terms for worker participation. In the summer of 1989, the Ministers for Economic Affairs, who are responsible for questions of internal market policy, were presented with a Commission proposal on the articles of association of European companies, which had been redrafted many times. Following numerous Council meetings it became apparent in 1989 that films affectedd by the provisions governing European joint stock companies will be offered a choice between three types of co-management, namely:
· worker participation m company management through a body in which the personnel are represented, and which is independent of other company organisations;
· worker participation anchored in a collective wage agreement between management and labour;
· worker participation by the appointment of workers to seats on the board of directors.
Workers representatives should occupy at least one-third and not more than half of the seats. This alternative corresponds to, among others, the German scheme of worker participation.
The European Parliament contributed to the discussion at the end of the 1980s with a scheme that had been the subject of lengthy debates in the Parliament 10 years before. The proposal provides for the board of directors to be made up of one-third representatives of the shareholders and one-third representatives of the workers. The remaining one-third would be elected by these two groups. The Commission gave little support to this scheme, partly because of reservations over constitutional law.
At the suggestion of the European Council of June 1988 in Hanover, the Commission started work on a detailed comparative analytical study of working conditions and industrial relations in the Member States. The results of the survey will form the basis for new Commission initiatives and proposals.
The systems of financing social security, which vary considerably between the Member States, will be subjected to more thorough study and analysis. This should show the effects of these differences on the completion of the internal market. In Denmark, for example, a considerable part of the social services is financed from taxation revenue, whereas in most of the other Member States social services are financed from monthly contributions paid by employees and employers.