The European Commission's Green Paper on Labour Law

Article excerpt

On 22 November 2006, the Commission of the European Communities issued a Green Paper entitled Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century.1 As its title suggests, this fairly concise document is concerned primarily with labour regulation. In broader perspective, however, it can be seen to feed into the employment strategy agreed by the Member States of the European Union at Lisbon in 2000 - the so-called Lisbon Strategy, which has since been followed up by numerous related proposals and suggestions. In other words, while the subject matter of the Green Paper and the proposals it contains fall within the scope of labour legislation, it is intended more as an analytical instrument designed to support employment and human resource policy at Community level. In more general terms, it could thus be described as a further contribution to conceptualizing and delineating the role of labour legislation in a way that would enable the labour market to generate a sufficient level of employment with decent working conditions, i.e. to strike a satisfactory balance between the quantity and quality of employment.

At any rate, this Green Paper is a preliminary analysis to be considered in preparation for a broader study that will incorporate the contributions expected from participants in public consultations held via a web site given in the document itself. Accordingly, each section ends with a set of questions addressed to would-be contributors to this ongoing endeavour to compile data, perspectives, proposals and suggestions. The Green Paper can thus ultimately be seen as the initial draft of a more elaborate document to be published on the now crucial challenge of modernizing labour law. As part of this process, the Commission of the European Communities will be submitting "Commission Communications" in the course of 2007 on the effect to be given the proposals. One such Communication, due in June, will be about "flexicurity" - a concept that combines flexibility for employers with security for workers. The purpose of these initiatives is to elaborate upon such contributions as may be received and "to help Member States steer the reform efforts" (p. 5).

In order to get the process going, the document offers a mix of factual information, views and considerations organized around three distinct, albeit complementary themes, namely: labour law in the European Union today, recent developments in labour legislation, and strategy for the future. The overall focus, of course, is on the challenges of employment and work in Europe in the twenty-first century. Given the methodology adopted, the Green Paper is intended primarily to stimulate debate - among experts, the social partners and other stakeholders - as a means of identifying the issues, engaging governments and relevant agencies, and encouraging social dialogue between trade unions and employers with a view to influencing the content of national labour legislation in the short- to medium-term future. As mentioned above, the purpose of this exercise is to set up a legal and institutional framework conducive to the creation of more and better jobs through appropriate initiatives or reforms.

All of the ideas, proposals and perspectives offered here proceed from a consideration of the employment situation and its effects on working conditions. For obvious reasons, the analysis focuses on the European Community, but many of the issues raised are also relevant to other parts of the world, particularly countries whose pace or level of development has brought them within the orbit of the economy of the Western world. Not surprisingly, the analysis begins with a review of trends such as the growing insecurity of employment, the proliferation of types of contract or jobs hitherto considered atypical, the growth of "three-way" employment relationships, situations arising out of the outsourcing of production, the hiring out of labour (via temporary employment agencies), the growing proportion of self -employment, particularly that now referred to, somewhat confusingly, as "economically dependent self-employment". …