Uniform Contingent Worker Legislation in the European Union | DCR Workforce Blog

Uniform Contingent Worker Legislation in the European Union

The use of temporary employees is not a new concept in Europe. While there are great disparities across European Member nations in terms of labor statistics, contingent workers – referred to as fixed-term contract workers – are an essential component of nearly all EU countries. Overall, 14% of EU workers were contingent. In Poland, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, that number exceeded 20%. Each country’s use of contingent workers is reflective of national practices, labor supply and demand, employer assessments of the volatility of the economy, and the country’s regulations regarding their use. While most businesses in the European Union operate on the premise that having a flexible workforce is an imperative which helps them stay competitive, the EU has also enacted some laws which limit the use of temporary contracts so that those who want permanent jobs are able to do so.

Until now, the countries of the European Union have established their own regulations governing employment contracts. Some legislation was passed to protect the rights of non-employees, while other laws were aimed at discouraging the practice of engaging temporary workers rather than creating permanent positions.

  • Italy, France and Portugal have laws which provide better job protection to non-permanent workers.
  • Italy and Portugal have also legislated to ensure that the termination of permanent employment contracts is less expensive, so that more employers feel comfortable with offering permanent contracts.
  • Italy and France also ensure that niche skills allow workers to enjoy professional contracts across the EU.
  • France imposes a 9-month tenure limit on temporary workers used by small businesses, allowing them to renew temporary employment contracts only twice and enforces a 35 hour work week.
  • The UK outlaws exclusivity clauses to protect workers from being tied down by zero-hour contracts (an agreement in which the employer as the discretion to vary the employee’s working hours, usually anywhere from full-time to “zero hours”).

Beleaguered by long-term unemployment and economic difficulties, the European Union has introduced new regulations to restrict the adoption of contingent work programs and to ensure that employment contracts are permanent.

  • The stated aim of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union ruling is the protection of temporary agency workers, their health and safety at work and the prevention of any abuse.
  • It also supersedes any national legislation which is found to discriminate against part-time workers, or sets unjustified restrictions. It expects the respective national courts to not apply national laws which are contrary to the EU law in the matter.
  • The law makes it hard for EU countries to justify any unwanted restrictions and arbitrary regulations which are not justifiable under grounds of general interest.
  • It also standardizes the use of agency workers across the European Union. This position is welcomed by the staffing industry.
  • The reforms are also aimed at encouraging the transition of long term temporary contracts to permanent employment.
  • They dictate acceptable contractual terms when engaging non-permanent workers.

In some quarters, these reforms are seen to have a positive effect as they act as a protection to vulnerable workers. But the same laws are also viewed as detrimental to professional temporary workers who operate as independent contractors, taking on assignments across the continent. The EU expects that, as Europe’s economy improves, flexible working practices will allow employers to gain access to talent, as and when they need it while uniform legislation will offer superior working conditions for professionals seeking work.

We ask you to weigh in. Will the ruling of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union foster economic growth while protecting the rights of fixed-term workers, or will it stymie the growth in contingent labor usage?

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.