Recent fundamental changes have taken place in the Netherlands, where the Government recently approved the Works and Security Act which is due to come into effect from 1 January 2015. The legislation covers three areas, namely dismissal, unemployment benefits and issues regarding flexible working. It is in relation to the latter area that employers should be aware of significant change.
The objective of the change is to ensure the correct balance to enable flexible working amongst the workforce whilst providing adequate protection for workers and ensuring that employers are responsible. The new legislation seeks to ensure that any gap between entitlements of permanent employees and flexible workers is minimised to prevent a tiered workforce developing. Therefore, for contracts of a temporary nature that are concluded on or after 1 January 2015, a probationary period within a fixed term contract of six months or less, is void. Fixed term employment contracts entered into on or after 1 January 2015 will also not include a non-compete clause unless there is a firm business justification as to why one should operate. Finally, greater protection is given to fixed term workers in relation to the duration of the agreement. If the fixed term contract has a term of six months or more then the employer is obliged to inform the employee in writing, at least one month before the contract ends, as to whether it will be continued and under what conditions. There are financial penalties for employers who fail to provide notification of duration to employees who are on temporary contracts. This is a significant change within the Dutch employment arena and therefore employers employing such workers going forward into 2015 should be aware of the changes and act accordingly.
Ireland – Greater powers for dispute resolution
The new Workplace Relations Bill 2014 which was recently put before the Irish Parliament proposes some profound changes in relation to dispute resolution. There are a number of new services to assist employers and employees to settle disputes. In particular, there is a new Workplace Relations Commission. Matters can be referred to a case resolution manager or mediator to deal with workplace issues. Alternatively, if there is a complaint about breach of employment law they can be forwarded to an adjudication offer without recourse (initially) to litigation. This somewhat mirrors the changes taking place within the UK (although the ACAS role is more mediation rather that adjudication) and is an attempt to reduce the level of litigation going through the Irish tribunal system. Also, state bodies will have the right to issue fixed penalty notices for employers, namely spot fines for employers who fail to provide for example wage slips etc. The fines are up to €2,000.
This provides a good opportunity for employers to review their grievance procedures to ensure that matters can be resolved successfully in-house without potentially drawing state authorities into the problem. Also, employers should be aware of the danger of falling foul of fixed penalty notices.
EU to get serious regarding health and safety
The European Commission has announced a new strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work for the period 2014 to 2020. This covers issues in relation to employment.
The EU has identified three major challenges namely:-
- Attempts to improve enforcement at member state level of health and safety legislation in the workplace. There is considerable concern that health and safety rules are being flouted particularly in sectors such as construction and transport. It is likely that we will see further commentary and developments in this area as the EU attempts to standardise behaviour patterns across the EU;
- The implementation of new proposals in relation to protection of migrant labour;
- Dealing with the issues raised by an ageing workforce. Clearly the latter point interlinks with age discrimination legislation that is operated across most of the EU. This is an interesting development and shows that the Commission is taking seriously the issues raised in protecting the health and safety of older workers. A good opportunity for employers to therefore review policies and check to ensure that health and safety requirements particularly in relation to older workers, are monitored.
Sweden – the problem with youth unemployment
The Swedish economy has faced the problem of youth unemployment for a significant period now. It has often not hit the radars but there is a particular issue with unemployment of those in the “under 25” age bracket. Therefore to tackle the problem the Swedish Government have implemented a programme of “working life introductory positions”. This is a combination of employment and vocational training. To incentivise companies to take people under this scheme the Swedish Government has introduced subsidies which companies will be able to apply for. This is similar to the scheme which is being rolled out in Spain in an attempt to also tackle their youth unemployment situation.
David Gibson Partner
Co-Lead Global Labour Law Unit
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