The proposed draft directive on temporary agency workers has been the subject of detailed discussions between the European social partners, which broke down after 11 months of negotiations in May 2001, and subsequently at the employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs Council in December 2002, March 2003 and June 2003. Under the Italian Presidency, various high level contacts were undertaken with a view to resolving the outstanding issues in time for the Council on 1-2 December 2003. As there were no developments which would allow agreement on a common position at that stage, the point was removed from the Council's December 2003 agenda.
The key outstanding issues are a review of restrictions and prohibitions regarding the use of temporary workers — Article 4 — and the duration of the exemption or "qualifying period" with regard to the principle of equal treatment — Article 5(4). On Article 4, Ireland has consistently maintained that it is one sided and unwarranted to disrupt an otherwise smooth functioning aspect of our labour market while other member states continue to maintain unjustified national restrictions on agency work, which include: restrictions on types of employment contracts, limitations to the use of agency work and unjustified discrimination of agencies compared to other employers.
On Article 5(4), Ireland, along with the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark, has been pointing out that temporary agency workers enjoy all workplace rights, while there is a difference of approach as between the European Parliament, on the one hand, which argues that temporary agency workers should receive pay parity immediately on placement, and the Commission and 11 member states, on the other, which can accept parity after six weeks. Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark argue that pay parity should only take place after a considerably longer waiting period, for example, 12 months.
The draft directive on temporary agency workers should also be seen in the context of a number of proposals for legislation and negotiations between the social partners aimed at promoting more flexible forms of work organisation and reforming the regulatory, contractual and legal environment so as to better reconcile flexibility and job security and create more and better jobs, as required by the Lisbon strategy, whereby all available instruments to stimulate the creation of quality jobs, diversify forms of employment and reconcile flexibility and security should be used.
Ireland attaches great importance to the success of the Lisbon strategy and as current EU President we will reflect on how the draft directive on temporary agency workers can be finalised. The Council has constantly given a firm commitment to reaching the Lisbon goals of increasing employment and providing better jobs and intends to work for a fair and practical solution which takes into account all the legitimate concerns. To this end, Ireland, during of its Presidency, intends to reflect on the different possible tracks to be followed in this dossier and will remain alert to any new developments which could help in resolving the outstanding areas of difficulty.
I point out, however, that the recent report of the employment task force chaired by Wim Kok, a former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, raises key questions about EU employment policy, notably the continued existence of unjustified restrictions on employment in some EU countries. The task force report calls on member states "to remove obstacles to the setting up and development of temporary work agencies as effective and attractive intermediaries in the labour market, offering improved job opportunities and high employment standards" and to remove "obstacles to temporary agency work could significantly support job opportunities and job matching." Ireland fully endorses the calls made in the Kok report about the scope for advancing the Lisbon goals through progressive developments in the temporary agency work sector.