HC Deb 22 December 1988 vol 144 cc463-4W
Mrs. Maureen Hicks

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the European Community Labour and Social Affairs Council held in Brussels on 16 December.

Mr. Cope

The Council reached a common position on the proposed framework directive on measures to encourage improvement in the safety and health of workers at the work place. This is the keystone for setting minimum standards for health and safety at work agreed under the social policy provision of the Single European Act; and is broadly consistent with the existing United Kingdom legislation in this area.

Also in the field of health and safety at work, the Council adopted a directive on exposure limits. This provides for the establishment by member states of limit values for toxic substances. The Council was unable to reach a common position on a proposed directive covering the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to carcinogens at work, because the European Parliament had not yet delivered its opinion. It agreed that benzene which had been the substance of a separate proposal rejected by European Parliament would come within the scope of this proposal.

There was general discussion on the social dimension of the single market in the light of the European Council's conclusions at Hanover in June, and Rhodes in December this year. No resolution was adopted.

A wide measure of agreement was reached on the second phase of the community action programme for education and training for techology, on the basis of funding of 200 mecus over five years to encourage Communitywide co-operation between higher level education and training institutions and industry in support of the development and application of new technologies. This was agreed by a majority vote on the assumption that the legal base was article 128. The United Kingdom voted against as in our opinion the legal base should have included article 235. Other member states also voted against. These states reserved the right to challenge the decision before the European Court of Justice. Consideration of a resolution on continuing training was deferred till the Spanish Presidency.

The Council was unable to reach agreement on a proposed directive to reverse the legal burden of proof so that it fell upon the employer in equal pay and equal treatment cases. However, a resolution was adopted on the reintegration and late integration of women into working life. This emphasises the importance of measures to help women return to paid work after time at home looking after their families.

An extension was agreed to a regulation providing financial assistance to Greece for vocational training centres, and centres for the rehabilitation of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped. There was also some discussion on family benefits for migrant workers.

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