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23 July 2003
At a meeting on June 3 2003 the EU Council of Ministers failed to reach political agreement on the proposed directive regulating the working conditions of temporary agency workers. This gives temporary agency workers the right to be treated at least as favourably in respect of basic working and employment conditions - broadly, rights in relation to working time and pay, and rules on non-discrimination - as comparable workers in the business which they are placed. There are only limited exemptions from this requirement.
The UK government, backed by Germany, Denmark and Ireland, blocked the proposal. A key area of disagreement was the length of the qualifying period before the protection applies. In the current draft there is an exemption from the requirement of equal treatment in relation to pay for agency workers on assignments of a maximum period of six weeks. However, the opposing member states wanted this extended to at least six months.
Progress on this proposal therefore continues to be extremely slow. Under normal procedures the council still has to adopt a 'common position' (essentially its view as to which parts of the proposal will be amended), which must return to the European Parliament for its second reading. If the European Commission and the council do not accept all of the Parliament's amendments, a conciliation committee will then have to be convened to try to reach a compromise text.
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