Temporary Employees Are Permanent Part of New Europe

By Messmer, Max | Personnel Journal, January 1994 | Go to article overview

Temporary Employees Are Permanent Part of New Europe


Messmer, Max, Personnel Journal


Unlike the U.S., many countries in Western Europe restrict or even ban the use of temporary workers. But a growing acceptance of temporary hiring practices throughout the European Community (EC) has created a new flexibility for many national economies, corporations and individuals. Even in nations where temporary work is illegal or frowned upon, governments are recognizing the legitimate need to use all human resources available in their fight for global economic standing.

Europeans aren't the only ones who can benefit. For example, when Minneapolis-based Medtronis Inc. received a rush of orders from its newly opened division in Brussels, it needed an additional accountant to handle the extra work--immediately. But the manufacturer of pacemakers, heart valves and various neurological products did not want to rush its hiring decision and make the wrong choice, so it hired a temporary.

"We were able to handle our rapidly growing workload and at the same time get an idea of how the candidate would best fit into the company before hiring permanently," explains Barbara Dircx, a member of Medtronic's European personnel department. "If the arrangement with a permanent employee hadn't worked out, we would have had to cover significant severance costs."

Nonetheless, what is relatively simple in the U.S. can be difficult or impossible elsewhere. While Ireland, the U.K., the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark have open markets much like the United States, Greece, Italy and Spain still ban the practice. And Belgium, France, Portugal and Germany all have more stringent regulations. "Good human resources management is all about developing people and making them feel valuable in any country," says Adrian New, vice president of human resources for Visa International in London. "But the technical part of labor laws vary significantly."

In contrast to the U.K.'s laissez-faire system, for example, in Belgium an employer can use a temporary worker in only three situations: to replace an employee who is ill, on vacation or on leave; to complete specific projects; and to assist during exceptional increases in workloads.

Belgium has additional restrictions. For a specific-project temporary hire, the work and its duration must be reviewed and approved by the government, which sets standards for certain temporary jobs (for year-end inventory, for example, the temporary assignment is limited to seven days.) If a firm needs help with transitory bursts of work, temporaries are limited to three-to-six-month assignments, and the work requires approval by a trade union or a representative of the National Labor Council. The government closely monitors staffing firms to ensure compliance with these rules.

France is one of the largest markets for temporary work in Europe, but it has both restrictive laws and a number of customs that have virtually the effect of law. It is legally required, for example, that the contract of the temporary employee be for a fixed period, called une mission, which is not to exceed 18 months. Temporaries can be used for the same three reasons specified by Belgian law as well as in certain sectors such as the tourist industry, cinema and overseas construction contracts where their usage is traditional or seasonal.

Some of the non-legislated French requirements reflect the years of socialist party rule. "There is a limit to the number of temporaries we can have working," explains Robert Zrihen, director of finance and administration of Amdahl France. "As a general rule, when the number exceeds 10 percent of my staff, the Labor Department will recommend that we hire permanent employees." There is no specific French law to mandate this, so it is something that only experience with the government can teach.

VACATIONS, BONUSES AND BENEFITS VARY. In many EC countries, temporary employees are entitled to certain benefits, some stipulated by law, others by tradition. …

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