HR European news roundup - June 2008

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Our regular human resources management news roundup from across Europe from the Federation of European Employers (FedEE).

Belgium: New residence rules for EU nationals
New residence rules have entered into force in Belgium for citizens of other EU countries. Although it will no longer be necessary to obtain a formal residence permit when staying in the country for long periods, individuals must register their presence at their local municipality within ten days of their arrival and make a declaration of registration after three months. This may be submitted electronically over the internet, but it will trigger a visit by the police to inspect and approve the person's residence, ensure that their name is on the door of the address notified to the commune and confirm their employment status.

Family reunification rules have also changed to make it easier for relatives to join an EU citizen who is an established Belgian resident. Family members may now take up residence in Belgium on similar terms to the first resident, but will receive a special interim card (attestation d'immatriculation) for the first five months of their stay.


Relaxation of work and travel rules Later this year, the French labour market is likely to be opened up to workers from eight of the ten countries that joined the EU on May 1st 2004 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia). This is well ahead of the May 1st 2009 deadline for labour market liberalisation.

The European Commission has begun talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, paving the way for visa-free travel between Bosnia Herzegovina and EU member states. The relaxation of borders between Finland and the Russian Federation is also in prospect. Finland's new minister for foreign affairs, Alexander Stubb, has proposed that visa- free travel should be introduced. However, such a move would require more personnel at border crossings, improvements in immigration technology and the standardisation of travel documents.

Sweden: New sickpay approved by parliament

The Swedish parliament has voted in favour of an amendment to the state sickness benefits system. From July 1st 2008, employees will continue to receive sick pay from their employer for the first 14 days of absence, but longer-term sickness absence will be subject to a new set of restrictions. When an individual has been absent for 90 days, they will be assessed in conjunction with their employer to determine if they could carry out alternative workplace duties. Should this be possible, the employee may still claim a reduced level of welfare assistance called 'activity compensation'. If the employee remains absent for  more than 180 days, they will be assessed once again to discover if their medical condition would allow them to undertake  alternative employment with another employer. The maximum benefit for those remaining on state sickness benefit after this time will be 364 days (in any 450-day period).

Swedish employees in the Swedish private sector are currently absent for an average of 1.2 times per year and the average number of sick days per employee is 1.37 for men and 1.15 for women. Those working for an employer subject to a collective agreement with a trade union affiliated to the Federation of Salaried Employees in Industry and Services (PTK) receive supplementary sick pay for the first three months of absence to bring total compensation to just fewer than 90 percent of normal salary. After three months of absence, salaried employees receive an ITP disability pension up until their 360th day of absence. The new state sick pay rules will not affect the structure of the salaried employee scheme, but the ITP disability pension will be increased for those subject to activity compensation.

European news in brief

Czech Republic
Following a recent ruling by the Czech constitutional court that the suspension of sick pay for the first three days of sickness absence was unlawful. The labour and social affairs minister, Petr Necas, has announced a change in current benefit rules. A new bill on sickness benefits is currently being debated by the national  parliament, but as benefit rules are unlikely to be amended before the June 30th deadline set by the constitutional court, employees will be entitled to 60 percent of their normal salary for the first three days of absence that occur after that date. New legislation is unlikely to be in place until early next year.

A report on employment prospects for foreign workers has been commissioned by the Finnish migration minister, Astrid Thors. The Finnish government is concerned about the 60 percent increase in residence applications from foreign workers during the last year. Although many Estonian nationals commute to work in Helsinki on a daily or weekly basis, a high proportion of non-EU immigrants have been unable to secure work. Astrid Thors wants to make employers responsible for integrating immigrants into Finnish society and is considering the introduction of a statutory obligation upon employers to fund language courses and give remedial skills training for immigrant workers.

On January 1st 2009 the two French public employment service organisations ANPE and UNEDIC will merge to become 'France Emploi'. The new organisation will have 45,000 staff and be funded by social security contributions paid by employers and employees to the URSSAF agencies (and from 2012, to a centralised agency, ACOSS). In addition to providing a full recruitment service, France Emploi will also administer the payment of unemployment benefits and other welfare benefits.

Irish Republic
In a recent study, the Irish Society of Actuaries has found that the average rate of mortality fell by 20 percent between 2001 and 2005. If this improvement continues, Irish residents reaching 60 years of age can expect to live until they are 90 if they are women and 87 if they are men. This will raise the average funding liability of defined benefit pension schemes by 5 percent more than previously estimated from earlier mortality studies.

The Latvian cabinet has decided that the national minimum wage will rise next January by 12.5 percent to 180 lats (256.12 euros) per month. The new rate is based on a formula and represents 49 percent of the predicted average gross earnings of employees for the whole of 2008.

A new scheme has been launched in the Netherlands to encourage single parents with children under 12 years old to take up part-time employment. A two-year pilot exercise will shortly begin with 30 municipalities. Under the scheme, those taking up part-time employment will be able to earn up to 120 euros per month without the loss of welfare benefits. In addition, those taking a vocational training course will be given a state bonus of up to 600 euros per year. If a welfare recipient finds work that takes them off state benefits for six months or more they will also receive a one-off payment of 500 euros.

The labour court in Szczecin, Poland, has ruled it unlawful for a company operating in Poland to ban the use of the Polish language in workplace communications. The case concerned a call centre which applied a written policy requiring all employees to use German when speaking to colleagues as well as to their clients. This decision may have more cultural than legal significance, as Szczecin is a large city close to the German border and was once part of Prussia and the pre-war German Wehrmacht Republic. In the early 1950s, the majority of the city's native German population were expelled from the city.

Russian Federation
Average wages and salaries in the Russian Federation grew by 28 percent over the year to April 2008. This is well above the 14.3 percent growth in consumer prices over the same period. FedEE estimates that average wages and salaries have now reached 15,095 roubles (411 euros) per month. It would also appear that pay arrears have halved in value since 2006.

According to the Turkish central bank's latest inflation expectation survey, inflation is predicted to hit 9.64 percent by the end of the year. This is 5.6 percent above the bank's inflation rate target for 2008.

United Kingdom
The UK's Employment Appeals Tribunal has ruled that employees who began work at a later date than the claimant may not be used as valid comparators in an equal pay claim (Walton Centre v Bewley). This decision overturns a previous EAT ruling (Diocese of Hallam v Connaughton 1996 ICR 860), which was later found by the EAT to have been reached following a misreading of a European Court of Justice decision.

Copyright: FedEE Services Ltd 2008

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