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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 17 December 2008 in Brussels. I will represent the UK, except for the agenda items on the Working Time Directive and European Work Councils, where the UK will be represented by the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. McFadden). Health and Consumer Affairs issues are being taken on 16 December.
The first and main agenda item will be an exchange of views and public debate on the social impact of the economic crisis and implementation of the Renewed Social Agenda. The presidency has tabled a range of documents as background to the discussion, including the Commissions communication on a European economic recovery plan and a paper asking three questions to focus the discussion. The Government broadly welcomes the recovery plan and I will outline some of the measures we have taken in the UK.
The presidency will report on the current state of play with the working time directive. The Government believes that the common position achieved at the June Employment Council is a good outcome for Europe and remains in full support of it.
Following a review, the Commission published a proposal on 2 July to recast the European works council directive. The European social parties have produced joint advice on the proposal and have suggested amendments to it. These have been incorporated into the text. The presidency hopes to reach political agreement at the Council meeting.
The Council will also seek political agreement on a proposal for a council directive implementing the agreement concluded by the European Community Shipowners Association (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) on the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 and amending Directive 1999/63/EC. The draft directive would implement the agreement of 19 May 2008 on the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, between the representatives of employers and employees in the maritime transport sector in respect of the application of seafarers living and working conditions. The Government strongly supports the Maritime Labour Convention and the Social Partners Agreement but has asked for a minute statement recording that, whilst we agree the directive should cover the self-employed, we do not accept that article 139 of the Treaty of Rome can provide a legal base for measures intended to apply to the self-employed.
The presidency will present a progress report on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. This directive is intended to fill in the gaps and remove the existing hierarchy of equality rights in EU protection against discrimination and harassment. The Government welcomes the opportunity to consider the Commissions proposal for a new directive and will work to ensure that any directive adopted is effective in eliminating discrimination, whilst ensuring that it is in harmony with the delicate balances in our own national legislation.
The Council will seek to adopt the common position on the amended proposal for a regulation for implementing Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 on the co-ordination of social security systems and also for determining the content of the Annexes. The Council will agree the text
of the whole regulation which implements the co-ordination rules and which has been dealt with on a chapter by chapter basis by several presidencies. The Government are content with the final proposal and fully supports the Council text.
The Council will seek the adoption of conclusions on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market. Following two consultations, the European Commission published a proposal on 3 October 2008 outlining action at EU level to deepen the open method of co-ordination through the adoption of common principles and subsequent monitoring and evaluation in the areas which contribute to active inclusion. Active inclusion covers minimum income, active labour market policy and access to services. The text is acceptable to the Government.
The Council will also seek adoption of two sets of conclusions on the review of the implementation by the member states and the EU institutions of the Beijing Platform for Action. The presidency has looked at two areas, indicators concerning women and armed conflicts, and the reconciliation of work and family life. The Government welcomes the indicators, recognises the importance of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and is content with the text of both sets of conclusions.
Under Any Other Business, there will be progress reports from the presidency on proposals for two directives, the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity. There will be information from the presidency and Commission on the recent follow up to the forum on workers rights and also the recent Euroskills events, and there will also be reports from the presidency of recent conferences. The Commission will also provide information on the economic and social impact of Directive 2005/47/EC on the working time of cross border workers which applies generally to the train crew of international rail services.