Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by the Department of Trade and Industry

  When I gave evidence before your Committee on 3 May on the subject of the European Commission Green Paper on Labour Law, time did not allow for discussion on the last question on your list and I promised to write to you with my comments; these are set out below.

Question 12:  How satisfactory do you find the social dialogue process under which the Commission seeks the views of the social partners about labour law issues? What is your view of the Federation of Small Business argument that the views of small businesses are insufficiently taken into account under this system?

  [Preamble to your question: Under the arrangements for European social dialogue, tripartite consultations relating to labour law issues at EU level takes place: at a technical level, in the Commission's EMCO (Employment Committee); and at a political level, in meetings with the Informal Council on Employment and Social Affairs which customarily take place at the beginning of each Presidency. While the CBI and TUC have told us they are involved in this process, the FSB have argued that the system allows no provision for consulting with organisations representing the interests of small business. Given that small businesses provide, according to the FSB, around 75 million jobs across the EU, they feel that their interests should be much better represented in the social dialogue system.]

  I agree with the Federation of Small Business about the importance of engaging Small Firms in European Social Dialogue because in addition to contacts mentioned in the preamble, under the terms of the Treaty the European Commission is required to consult European Social Partners on any social/employment measure in Europe. The Partners may then prepare legislative measures to be considered by the European Council and European Parliament or reach their own autonomous agreements.

  Business Europe and the ETUC (whose UK representatives in Brussels are CBI and TUC respectively) do of course count employers and employees of small firms amongst their members. Additionally since November 1998 the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), an employers' organisation representing the interests of crafts, trades and SMEs at EU level, has been a recognised Social Partner and as such is recognised by the Commission for the purposes of consultation. We welcomed this. However the Forum of Private Business, the only UK representative, has recently withdrawn from UEAPME membership and I am not currently aware that any other UK organisation has plans to join—so unfortunately at this time there is no direct participation from the UK through UEAPME.

  Beyond the formal European Social Dialogue, in the wider context of involving small businesses in European policy making more generally, the European Small Firms Envoy has a key role in considering small firm engagement with EU policy and regulation. Engagement with social dialogue is something that small firms organisations could might consider raising with the Envoy.

15 May 2007

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