§ Mr. Hendry
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the outcome of the EC Social Affairs Council held on 19 April.
§ Mr. Michael Forsyth
I attended the meeting of the Labour and Social Affairs Council held on 19 April in Luxembourg and was accompanied by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security.
The Council considered a number of Commission proposals, but no final decisions were reached and no votes were taken.
The directive on the protection of young workers was discussed in the light of the Commission's proposed amendments to the common position reached at the Social Affairs Council on 23 November. No decision was reached. We were successful in our efforts at the meeting to resist European Parliament attempts to remove the United Kingdom's opt-out. Most member states indicated that they could accept a presidency proposal which included the whole of the United Kingdom opt-out and its renewability. There will be a further discussion of the directive at the Social Affairs Council in June.
The Commission's draft programme on social exclusion was also discussed and will be considered further at the June Council.
The Council reached agreement in principle on the composition of the administrative board of the proposed health and safety agency in Bilbao. A number of other outstanding issues were returned to Council working groups for further discussion.
The Council agreed that the Commission should consider how best to take forward the draft directives on parental leave, non-standard work and the reversal of the burden of proof in equal pay and equal treatment cases. The Commissioner acknowledged that the United Kingdom maintained its opposition to the proposed directives.
The Council heard progress reports from Commissioner Flynn on follow-up to the Delors White Paper and on responses to his own Green Paper on European social policy. There will be a substantive discussion on the Green Paper at the June Social Affairs Council meeting. The United Kingdom Government's response to the Green Paper was submitted promptly, but responses from some other member states had yet to arrive.
The Council discussed the operation of the social protocol and the agreement of the Eleven in the light of a communication from the Commission. Commissioner Flynn provided a report on progress with the proposal on European Works Councils. Discussions between the social partners had broken down and the Commission had now agreed the text of a new proposal to be discussed under the agreement of the Eleven. The directive would not apply in the United Kingdom. Commissioner Flynn also made a preliminary presentation on a Commission communication on asylum and immigration policy.
Finally, the Council agreed that the Commission should look into Belgian concerns about the operation of EC social security regulations for posted workers.