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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 9 June 2008 in Luxembourg. The UK was represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. Health and Consumer Affairs issues were taken on 10 June.

Political agreement was achieved on the working time and agency workers directives. A good outcome was achieved for the UK on both these important dossiers. On working time we secured the continued right for individuals to opt out of the 48-hour week, with no suggestion of end date or phasing out—for which many others have pressed; a work-life balance provision that is in keeping with current UK policy on the right to request flexible working; a secure solution to the problems raised by the SiMAP and Jaegar judgments meaning that inactive on-call time does not have to count as working time; satisfactory safeguards on use of the opt-out, with necessary flexibility for short-term contracts; and a maximum cap of 60-65 hours, depending on the circumstances.

The agreed text on agency workers will enable us to implement the recent CBI-TUC agreement in full, setting a 12-week qualifying period for equal treatment and addressing a number of subsidiary issues as set out in that agreement.

The Council adopted conclusions on enhanced administrative co-operation on the posting of workers for the provisions of services.

Political agreement was reached on a Council decision on the 2008-10 employment guidelines. The presidency and Commission emphasised the primary importance of their implementation and the Chairman of the Employment Committee presented an opinion from the Committee on youth unemployment, which he hoped would be helpful to the Council as the Lisbon deadlines approach.

A partial general approach was agreed by the Council on a chapter covering financial provisions of the implementing regulation for social security co-ordination regulation 883/04, and additionally, the Council also agreed a general approach on some outstanding annexes for regulation 883/04.

Council conclusions were adopted on skills for young people. The UK stated our commitment to increasing skills for all, including young people and disadvantaged groups, by 2020. This was essential in the face of globalisation and there is a useful role for collaboration at European level on analysis and policy responses. The European skills review would also be invaluable in this respect.

The Council also adopted three sets of conclusions as part of the review of implementation of the Beijing platform for action on gender equality. The three areas covered were the elimination of gender stereotypes; women in political decision making; and indicators on the girl child.

Under ‘any other business’, the presidency reported that progress has been made on the worker mobility directive on supplementary pensions, but there were still some outstanding issues to be resolved. They also gave a report on events that had been organised by Slovenia during their time as presidency.

The chair of the Social Protection Committee gave an update on social services of general interest. The Committee will report to the Council again in December.

Several newer member states tabled a declaration on the draft decision establishing a year against poverty and exclusion in 2010. Whilst they were content for agreement to be reached at first reading with the European Parliament, they pressed for a Community financial contribution for projects of greater than 50 per cent. to be considered in future programmes; however, the Commission defended the current 50 per cent. approach.

Reports were also received from the Commission on the activities of the expert group on demographic issues and on policies and instruments to improve inclusion of Roma across the Union.

France outlined its priorities on employment and social policy for their forthcoming presidency starting in July. The emphasis would be on legislation, including proposals expected before the end of the year on a revision of the 1994 European Works Councils Directive; a new anti-discrimination directive; and a package of measures on work-life balance. France also expects to deal with the European Parliament opinions on the agency workers and working time directive. Their main non-legislative priority would be to debate the EU’s renewed social agenda, starting at the July informal meeting of Ministers.