The EU Council has had a busy month, adopting two new directives which will strengthen employees' rights.  It also adopted a regulation which will establish a European Labour Authority, to support compliance and enforcement in the areas of labour mobility and social security coordination.

Work life balance for parents and carers

The first new directive aims to help people with caring responsibilities in managing their work and family lives, and to promote the balance of caring responsibilities between men and women. UK law already provides for many of the entitlements which the directive sets out.  These include 10 working days' paid paternity leave and four months of paid parental leave. The most significant element of the directive, from a UK perspective, is its introduction of the concept of carers' leave.  Member states must ensure employees are entitled to take five days of unpaid carers' leave per year.  Notwithstanding the uncertainties which Brexit brings for the fate of new EU laws, the government recently committed to offering Parliament the opportunity to adopt the directive's terms into UK law.  Carers UK has long been campaigning for the government to introduce 5 to 10 days of paid carers' leave.

Transparent and predictable working conditions

The second directive seeks to address transparent and predictable working conditions. The new directive aims to improve the rights of workers, in particular those who do flexible forms of work, such as those on zero-hour contracts. The directive will apply to all individuals working more than three hours per week for four consecutive weeks and those with no guaranteed working time (e.g. on
zero-hour contracts). Again, UK law already covers a number of the directive's key elements, such as a ban on exclusivity clauses. There are some provisions which go further than current UK law:

  • probationary periods will be limited to a maximum of six months, except in exceptional circumstances;
  • employers will have a limited ability to prevent workers taking up similar engagements with another employer;
  • employees will be entitled to free training where the training is required by an agreement with a union or national legislation; and
  • employees will be able to request more predictable and secure working conditions after six months with the same employer.

Some of the measures are not dissimilar to the Taylor Review recommendations. Whilst the
Brexit-related direction of travel is uncertain, both in terms of its nature and timing, the government has indicated a commitment to ensure that the rights of UK workers do not fall behind those in the EU.  As a result, we are likely to see something similar to the directive's terms being implemented in the UK.

European Labour Authority

The Council also adopted a Regulation establishing a European Labour Authority (ELA). The aim of this new body is to support compliance and coordination between member states in the enforcement of EU legal acts in the areas of labour mobility and social security coordination.

The main tasks of the ELA will be:

  • improving the access to information for employees and employers on their rights and obligations in cases of cross-border mobility, free movement of services and social security coordination;
  • supporting coordination between member states on cross-border enforcement of relevant Union law; and
  • assisting member states authorities in resolving cross-border disputes.

The ELA will be able to report cases of undeclared work, violations of working conditions or labour exploitation. It will also cooperate with the authorities of the member states concerned and support national authorities in carrying out inspections to tackle irregularities. The ELA is expected to start functioning by the end of 2019 and reach its full operational capacity by 2023.

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