European human resources news roundup - August
Our latest news roundup for people managers across Europe includes ECJ: Public statements actionable without victim, EU: Blue card will not override national schemes, United Kingdom: Landmark equal pay ruling.ECJ: Public statements actionable without victim
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has published its findings concerning a discrimination case where there was no identifiable complainant.
The case in question arose from a Belgian company director's public statement that his organisation would not hire applicants of a particular ethnic origin. According to the court, the lack of an identifiable complainant 'does not permit the conclusion that there is no direct discrimination' within the meaning of EU Directive 2000/43/EC.
The requirement for a reversal of the burden of proof in such cases means that an employer making discriminatory statements would have to prove that they had not infringed the principle of equal treatment. If they were unable to establish such proof, a national court would then be obliged to apply sanctions that are 'effective, proportionate and dissuasive'. In the absence of an identifiable victim, the sanction should, in the court's view, consist of 'an adequate level of publicity' and an award of damages to the equal opportunities body bringing the proceedings.
EU: Blue card will not override national schemes
At a recent meeting of the EU council, it was decided that the planned introduction of a 'blue card' allowing migrants to live and work in any EU state would not prevent individual countries from continuing their own 'knowledge migrant' schemes.
Detailed conditions to be met by applicants for the blue card have yet to be established. The European Commission has proposed blue card holders must be paid at least 50 percent above the average for any country where they plan to work. However, EU ministers have rejected the application of quotas for card holders or routine checks on employers. The preference is for selective checks within high-risk sectors, without a fixed minimum of inspections in any given period.
France: Radical overhaul of working time rules
The French Senate has voted to adopt the bill on economic modernisation passed by the National Assembly earlier this month.
This measure gives employers the freedom to negotiate with employee representatives at a company level (or in their absence, individual employees) on the length of the working week and the buying-out of RTT (compensation days).
The basic 35-hour week will be retained, but employees will be able to work up to 405 overtime hours each year at a minimum premium of time + 25 percent. Executives and some other white-collar workers whose annual working time is measured in days will be permitted to work up to 235 days per year (or 282 days in some circumstances) provided they are compensated by a 10 percent premium for each extra day worked in excess of 218 days per year.
United Kingdom: Landmark equal pay ruling
HR policies that seek to achieve equal pay by gradually tapering down the earnings differential between male and female employees over time have been dealt a blow by a ruling this week from the UK Court of Appeal.
An employer had previously introduced payments that exclusively benefited male employees. To rectify this, they introduced a formula that gradually reduced the payments over a number of years. However, the court decided that this only perpetuated the original discriminatory practice under a different label.
Moreover, if women had been treated equitably in the past, they too would have received the additional payments and would likewise be entitled to pay protection when the payments were removed. (Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council v Bainbridge and others and Middlesbrough Borough Council v Surtees & others).
Other European news in brief
The Danish Sickness and Pregnancy Benefit Act has been amended to increase the period during which employers are responsible for meeting the costs of employee absence.
Employers will now have to meet all sick pay costs for the first 21 days of absence instead of the first 15 days. After this period, employers will be able to reclaim a substantial proportion of sick pay costs from the local Kommune until benefit entitlement is exhausted (52 weeks in any 18-month period). However, it will still be possible in some cases for employers to make claims for the initial period of sick leave if an employee is absent on a long-term basis.
Average wages and salaries in Finland rose over the year to Q2 2008 by 8.9 percent. This compares with an increase of just 6.3 percent over the year to Q2 2007. Sectors with the highest pay growth were financial intermediation (+15,2 percent), construction (+15.0 percent), and health and social work (+12.4 percent). By contrast, pay in manufacturing rose by just 6.5 percent between Q2 2007 and Q2 2008.
A breakthrough has been achieved in the German retail sector with the conclusion of a collective agreement covering 220,000 workers in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Collective bargaining across the German retailing sector effectively ended eighteen months ago and the agreement in Baden-Wuerttemberg ran out on 31 March 2007. The new agreement gives workers a single flat- rate payment of 400 euros to cover the period from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008. A further 3 percent rise in basic rates has also been agreed, backdated to 1 April 2008.
Employees in Italy whose gross earnings are up to 30,000 euros per year may now benefit from a flat-rate income tax of 10 percent on all overtime pay they receive. This facility has been introduced on a provisional basis until 31 December 2008, but is likely to become permanent if the experiment proves successful.
Parliamentary debate about proposed amendments to Portugal's labour code has been rescheduled for September 2008 due to delays in drafting these amendments. The changes, agreed with the social partners in May 2008, include the introduction of time banking and compressed workweeks, extension of parental leave, reductions in social security contributions for employers hiring certain workers on open-ended contracts, a new legal framework for company-level collective bargaining and simplification of the disciplinary procedure required prior to employee dismissal.
Temporary workers employed by member firms of the Swissstaffing employers' association will soon be subject to collective agreement concluded with the Unia trade union. This establishes minimum pay rates for over 100 different job functions and provides a number of guaranteed benefits such as medical insurance and the right to paid sickness absence. The three-year deal covers 70 percent of temporary workers operating in the country and is due to commence on 1 January 2009.
Copyright: FedEE Services Ltd 2008
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