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Social Affairs Council

Volume 210: debated on Tuesday 30 June 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the outcome of the meeting on 24 June of the Social Affairs Council in Luxembourg; and if she will make a statement.

The Council devoted most of its time to consideration of the working time directive, but the Council did not reach a common position, nor was a vote taken.I made it clear that the United Kingdom continues to have very severe doubts about the directive as a whole and about its proposed legal base and that we reserved the right to challenge it in the European Court of Justice. In the discussions of the text, the United Kingdom secured all its key objectives, namely: the right for employees to work more than 48 hours per week if they choose to do so, freedom for each member state to decide whether to allow working on a Sunday, and the right of employers and employees to make collective agreements at local level concerning working time in a manner which best suits their particular circumstances—to derogate from the terms of any eventual directive. The United Kingdom also secured other helpful points.However, other member states continued to have difficulties with the proposal, and the Council decided that further work on various aspects of the directive was necessary before the issue could return to Ministers.On the draft directive concerning pregnant workers, one member state continued to oppose the common position which the Council reached last November and which the other 11 countries—including the United Kingdom—now wish to see adopted finally.A number of useful proposals were, however, agreed or adopted, including directives on health and safety in mines and quarries and on temporary and mobile construction sites; a directive on collective redundancies; a directive on safety signs at work; a decision that 1993 should be European Year of the Elderly; and recommendations on employee financial participation, on aspects of social security systems.The outcome on the working time directive was a very good one for the United Kingdom. It also showed that proposed EC legislation of this sort causes difficulties for a number of member states. More generally, progress continues to be made on other more sensible proposals under the social action programme. Of the 38 proposals brought forward to date, 25 have now been agreed.