February 26. 2024. 5:45

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Commissioner: New European Works Council proposal by end of 2023

In an interview with EURACTIV, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit announced that the Commission would come forward with a legislative proposal to amend the European Works Council (EWC) Directive by the end of 2023.

This comes in the wake of the European Parliament passing an own-initiative report in early February, which called for a review of the directive that regulates the European Works Councils.

EWCs are bodies that represent the European employees of large companies. Under the current directive, member states have to guarantee the rights of workers of companies with over 1,000 employees and at least 150 employees in each of at least two member states to form a European Works Council.

However, the EWCs are generally viewed as too powerless in many companies. Companies are only required to let them meet once a year and it is hard for EWCs to enforce their right to be consulted on important issues. Moreover, the number of EWCs has stagnated in the past years.

As the Parliament does not have the power to initiate a review of the directive itself, it is up to the Commission to move on this issue – and it looks like it will.

EU Parliament wants to strengthen European Works Councils

On Thursday (2 February), the European Parliament voted in favour of a report that wants to strengthen the rights of European Works Councils (EWC) in order to reinforce the voice of employees in large European companies.

“On Wednesday (1 March), we decided to inform the Parliament that we will go give a follow up [and] that we will start the consultation of social partners, because this is something which needs the consultation of social partners,” Commissioner Schmit told EURACTIV.

Trade unions and employers’ organisations will thus soon be asked to comment on how they would like the EWC directive to change.

“By the end of the year, unless social partners decided to go for a negotiation between themselves, […] the Commission will come up with a proposal,” he said.

This makes a new legislative proposal to amend the EWC directive highly likely as it is unlikely that trade unions would want to rely on negotiations with employers’ associations alone.

When the European Parliament passed its report in February calling for strengthened EWCs, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) reacted in support of a reviewed directive.

“The current directive needs to be reviewed as it is a toothless tiger,” ETUC confederal secretary Isabelle Schömann said in a statement.

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The business representatives, meanwhile, are not on the same page.

In a webinar on 21 February, BusinessEurope’s director general Markus Beyrer said, “the Commission should not buy into a revision of the EWCs directive, as proposed by the Parliament,” arguing that it would damage the competitiveness of European businesses.

Although Beyrer will have another opportunity to provide his opinion in the consultations that are set to start soon, the Commission’s move towards a review of the directive clearly goes against the interests of the business lobby.

If a reviewed directive goes in the direction of the EU Parliament’s report, there will be more requirements on businesses.

For example, the Parliament wants to increase the minimum number of yearly meetings of EWCs from one to two. Moreover, it wants to ensure that EWCs have access to more data to enable them to carry out their work.

Also, the Parliament argues for decisively higher fines that companies would have to pay if they did not respect the rights of EWCs.

While companies currently often only pay several thousand euros, they might find themselves paying several million under the rules proposed by Parliament.