Documents Considered by the Committee on 22 October 2014 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


5 Working time: inland waterway transport

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested

Document detailsDraft Council Directive about a social partners agreement on working time in inland waterway transport
Legal baseArticle 155(2) TFEU; —; QMV
DepartmentTransport
Document number(36216), 11688/14 + ADDs 1-3, COM(14) 452

Summary and Committee's conclusions

5.1 The Working Time Directive lays down common minimum standards, but allows for more specific rules to be made for specific sectors. Article 155 TFEU provides for the possibility of a European Social Partners' Agreement (SPA) between management and labour being implemented by Council decision on a proposal from the Commission.

5.2 The European Barge Union, the European Skippers Organisation and the European Transport Workers Federation, the sectoral social partners, have concluded an SPA on specific working time rules for mobile workers in inland waterway transport. In response to a request from these organisations the Commission proposes this draft Directive to implement the SPA.

5.3 When we considered this proposal, in September, we recognised the need for adequate working time rules for mobile workers in inland waterway transport. But we shared the Government's view of the inappropriateness of this proposal for the UK and were concerned about a seemingly precipitate push to agree the proposal. Therefore we asked the Government to press the Presidency to allow sufficient time for the necessary consideration of the issues, rather than dealing with the matter at a Council on 16 October. We said we would consider this matter again when we had more information from the Government about its consultations and impact assessment.

5.4 The Government now tells us of its impact assessment and consultations and about developments in negotiations on the draft Directive, which seem so far only marginally helpful.

5.5 We understand that, subsequent to the Government's report to us, it has been agreed to delay consideration of the proposal by the Council beyond 16 October to allow time for more discussion. As this would enable the Government to continue working with other Member States seeking greater clarity on the intended application and scope of the proposal from the social partners, we are keeping the document under scrutiny, pending a further report from the Government on developments.

Full details of the documents: Draft Council Directive implementing the European Agreement concluded by the European Barge Union (EBU), the European Skippers Organisation (ESO) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time in inland waterway transport: (36216), 11688/14 + ADDs 1-3, COM(14) 452.

Background

5.6 Directive 2003/88/EC, the Working Time Directive, lays down common minimum standards, including daily and weekly work and rest limits, night work and annual leave, but allows for more specific rules to be made for specific sectors. Article 155 TFEU provides for the possibility of a European Social Partners' Agreement (SPA) between management and labour being implemented by Council decision on a proposal from the Commission.

5.7 The European Barge Union, the European Skippers Organisation and the European Transport Workers Federation, the sectoral social partners, have concluded an SPA on specific working time rules for mobile workers in inland waterway transport. In response to a request from these organisations the Commission proposes this draft Directive to implement the SPA.

5.8 When we considered this proposal, in September, we heard that:

·  the Government recognised the need for adequate working time rules for mobile workers in inland waterway transport;

·  but it found the SPA, which can only be accepted or rejected in its entirety, insufficiently flexible to cater for the UK's significantly different inland waterway transport operations to those on the EU's major waterways;

·  moreover, one of the aims of the draft Directive is to facilitate cross-border enforcement of these working time rules, which has little relevance for the UK, given the one waterway, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which currently has one small Irish flag passenger ship operation;

·  the Government would therefore seek support from other Member States not linked to the main EU waterway network to challenge the scope of the proposed Directive in order to limit the application of the agreement to cross-border inland waterways transport, and possibly to the major routes on the Trans-European Transport Network, provided that national rules provide a similar or equivalent level of protection, taking into account national characteristics;

·  but, if unsuccessful in limiting the application of the Directive, the Government would seek clarification on the application of the proposal to the types of operation in the UK, with a view to minimising the numbers of UK operations that would be bound by the standards; and

·  it was possible that a political agreement on the draft Directive might be sought at a Council meeting on 16 October, but that the Government would be seeking industry views during negotiation of the draft Directive and that it would only be able to make a full assessment of its potential impact when it had clarification of a number of matters in the proposal.

5.9 We recognised the need for adequate working time rules for mobile workers in inland waterway transport. But we shared the Government's view that this proposal is inappropriate for the UK's circumstances. Moreover, we were concerned that a seemingly precipitate push to agree the proposal would not allow the Government time to properly consult the industry or make an adequate assessment of the potential impact. Therefore we asked the Government to press the Presidency to allow sufficient time for the necessary consideration of the issues. We said we would consider this matter again when we had more information from the Government about its consultations and impact assessment. Meanwhile the document remained under scrutiny.

The Minister's letter of 9 October 2014

5.10 The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes) first reminds us that the proposal would apply to mobile workers in inland waterways transport, implement maximum daily work periods and minimum daily and weekly rest periods, while providing flexibility on average weekly working hours, calculated over a period of 12 months (this is intended to allow for seasonal peaks and troughs in the workload), introduce free annual health assessments for all mobile workers and specify record keeping arrangements based around those required on sea-going ships. He then discusses the impact assessment for the UK, the Government's consultations and progress on the proposal.

Possible impact

5.11 The Minister, who attaches the Government's "Impact Assessment Checklist", says that:

·  the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has records for passenger ships (carrying more than 12 passengers, which it surveys annually) but very limited information about smaller passenger-carrying craft or freight vessels, as these are not subject to regular survey and are usually registered with local navigation authorities;

·  the assessment of the impact on each of those groups has been drawn from discussions with the main trade associations;

·  there are currently around 295 companies operating around 540 passenger ships on UK inland waterways — data drawn from the MCA's certification database;

·  Office of National Statistics data for employment in inland waterways transport (the latest available are provisional figures for 2012 and are shown only to the nearest hundred) show 800 full-time and 300 part-time employees working in passenger transport and 200 full-time and 100 part-time employees in freight transport;

·  the data does not show how many of those workers work on the vessels when they are moving and are therefore likely to be subject the proposed Directive, but it is expected to be a high proportion;

·  although for most of these companies, the tightening of limits on working time would have little or no impact, the new rules might inhibit freight operations on smaller tidal rivers;

·  all operators would however be subject to new administrative burdens which the Government believes are disproportionate for the majority of UK operators; and

·  the overall cost to the UK economy would be small, well under £1 million per year, but with disproportionate impact for those affected, in particular reducing the scope for modal shift of heavy loads onto the smaller tidal rivers.

Consultations:

5.12 The Minister tells us that:

·  the proposals have been discussed with the Commercial Boat Operators' Association (CBOA), which represents UK inland waterways freight operations, and the Passenger Boat Association, an affiliate of the British Marine Federation which is the largest association representing passenger operations on UK inland waterways;

·  the Government has also had correspondence with Nautilus International (the trans-national trade union), which was represented in discussions on the SPA through the European Transport Federation, and supports the proposed Directive;

·  the Passenger Boat Association is chiefly concerned about the administrative burden of health assessment and record keeping;

·  these burdens are also a concern to the CBOA, but they have a specific concern about the practicality of the proposals for operations such as those on the tidal Trent, which are constrained by depth of water at low tide and the strength of the flood tide; and

·  Nautilus International supports the draft Directive, on grounds of health and safety, but has indicated a willingness to discuss the practical implications and to look for solutions which do not compromise the safety benefits of the proposal.

Progress

5.13 The Minister reports that:

·  the proposal has been discussed at the Social Questions Working Group on 18 September and 3 October;

·  it was not yet clear whether there is sufficient support for a political agreement to be reached at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 16 October;

·  discussions in Working Group have centred around the scope of the agreement, which several Member States, including the UK, feel is unclear;

·  the Commission said that any attempt to define the terms "inland waterways" or "mobile workers" in the Directive would risk limiting the scope of the SPA, which was deliberately broad;

·  some Member States object to the proposal on the grounds that they would be required to transpose a Directive which has no practical effect because they have no waterways and therefore no waterways transport;

·  the Commission advised that the Directive would be addressed to all Member States, and that only those which, as a matter of geography, have no inland waterways could make a case for not transposing it;

·  subsequently, the Presidency produced a compromise proposal for a new recital drawing attention to the limitation of the application of the Directive as a result of geography (that is, those countries with no inland waterways cannot by definition have any inland waterways transport);

·  this does not, however, apply to the UK and in discussions to date the compromise proposal has not satisfied the Member States which raised this issue;

·  on the definition of mobile workers, the Commission argues that it should apply to anyone who works on a vessel when it is moving;

·  this reinforces the Government's concern, shared by some other Member States, about the impact of measures suitable for large commercial freight operations on small passenger vessels offering tourist trips;

·  the UK is not the only Member State to have concerns about the representativeness of the SPA in this case;

·  the Commission argues that the legal process have been followed and all the relevant checks made to ensure that the agreement is representative, legally valid and appropriate;

·  the Government, however, remains unconvinced that, where concerns were raised in consultation with Member States which were not fully represented during negotiations, these have been properly followed up by the Commission;

·  there has been growing pressure on the Commission to return to the social partners who negotiated the SPA to clarify the intended scope and application;

·  this step has not been agreed, but the Commission has agreed to bilateral discussions with the UK to consider the Government's concerns, particularly on the workability of the minimum hours of rest on smaller tidal waterways;

·  the Government proposes also to use this opportunity to make the case for flexibility (within the constraints of what is safe), perhaps along the lines of permitting "authorised exceptions" agreed between the two sides of industry and authorised by the competent authority, which exists under the social partners' agreement on seafarers' hours of work (Council Directive 1999/63/EC as amended);

·  if these discussions were to persuade the Commission to return to the social partners, the proposal would be withdrawn from the 16 October EPSCO agenda;

·  the Government would then seek clarification on the scope of the SPA, and if necessary, provisions for flexibility in applying the agreement in a practicable way to the UK's non-linked waterways;

·  without further change, the Government intended to oppose the draft Directive at the EPSCO Council and express its disappointment at the speed with which the Presidency has taken this proposal forward, given Member States' concerns; and

·  the Government expects that there would be a significant number of other Member States also opposing, but it was not yet clear, due to ongoing discussions, whether there would be a blocking vote.

Previous Committee Reports

Ninth Report, HC 219-ix (2014-15), chapter 11 (3 September 2014).


 
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