Commission is to boost the role of job subcontracting bureaus

European Union labor ministers last week discussed in Luxembourg a new draft Commission directive aimed to boost temporary employment through a further deregulation of the operational framework for private job subcontracting bureaus. The Commission assumed the initiative for the directive after unions and employers failed to reach commonly acceptable positions on the matter. Although it is careful to stress that those temporarily employed – paid by the private bureaus that subcontract them out to firms – must not be treated any differently from the firms’ permanent staff, the Commission recognizes in the document that there may be exceptions regarding their protection. «If the person employed continues to be paid by the private bureau during the period between leaving one occupation and taking up another, he/she is considered as enjoying adequate security of employment,» says the draft directive, thus casting doubt on the applicability of collective labor agreements. At the same time, member-states are given the option to allow in collective labor pacts divergences from the general principle of non-discrimination which will help in «meeting the requirements of the firm and the worker more effectively.» Finally, it is proposed that the principle of non-discrimination not apply to temporary employment of less than six weeks’ duration. This is seen as «significantly limiting the bureaucratic problems faced by the private employment bureaus.» The Commission’s publication «Social Agenda» says that the practice of temporary employment will be strengthened as it «covers the needs of both enterprises and employed, allows firms to deal with fluctuations in production, while also enabling workers to gain invaluable experience without having to be tied to one particular employer.» It recognizes, nevertheless, that temporary employment has a «communication problem,» as, in many such cases, workers are remunerated less and do not participate in training programs. Workers in temporary employment in Europe today number about 2.2 million, or 1.4 percent of total manpower. The picture in Greece is still hazy. Despite the wide use of the practice by large enterprises and banks, particularly in services offered via the telephone, logistics and security or cleaning services, there is a lack of specific data. The sector now numbers about 35 private firms, most of which are individual businesses acting as intermediaries in the hiring of immigrants as domestic assistants. Twenty-eight are licensed to operate in the Athens area, two in Thessaloniki, three in Iraklion, Crete, and one each in Kavala and Trikala. According to Labor Ministry data, 972 labor contracts were signed in the first half of 2002, mostly involving domestic assistants. A few hiring consultancy firms, Greek or subsidiaries of foreign multinationals, are also active, having enlisted for temporary jobs unemployed workers with high qualifications or employed people seeking better jobs. Given the unwillingness of firms to hire permanent staff on a full-time basis and the time required for selection, the future of private hiring bureaus for temporary staff looks promising, their main weapon being flexibility.