As the Deputy is no doubt aware, the right of initiative in terms of EU proposals in regard to the employment rights of workers lies with the European Commission under the treaty.
In this regard, proposals in the area of employment rights likely to be progressed during our Presidency are as follows.
The Commission communication on the review of the Working Time Directive, 93/104/EC, was published on 30 December 2003 and seeks to launch a wide-ranging consultation process capable of resulting in a possible amendment of the Directive. The communication was addressed to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the social partners at community level. The key aim of the communication is to solicit the views of these institutions and organisations on the issues discussed in the text. The deadline for receipt of views is 31 March 2004.
As Presidency, we have put the review of the Working Time Directive on the agenda of the March Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council, which, we hope, will provide an appropriate opportunity to facilitate and advance the debate on the issues identified in the Commission's communication.
As Presidency, we must be mindful that any developments at that Council would need to send a positive signal to the social partners in their subsequent formal deliberations in the matter as provided for under the treaty. These discussions between the social partners are expected to commence in April.
The European Commission recently indicated that it proposes to publish a set of proposals, in the form of a draft directive, as distinct from a Commission recommendation, in February 2004 on the data protection of employees. Progress, during our Presidency, on this proposal will very much depend on the timing of its publication. In light of the need to obtain the views of the European Parliament and the European social partners on the matter, the earliest date for consideration of this topic by Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers will be at the June Council.
As it holds the EU Presidency, Ireland will play a proactive role in progressing both of the dossiers to which I have referred during our semester.