As reported in an earlier post, the European Commission (EC) is conducting a study of the top ten most burdensome EU laws for SMEs. This is part of an initiative – the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) – launched by the Commission in 2012 to ease the regulatory burden on SMEs in Europe. On 18 June 2013, the European Commission (EC) published the final results of its study and issued a number of recommendations to improve and simplify existing legislation, including onerous and costly employee-related legislation. The Commission recommendations in the employment context include:

  • Working time rules.  SMEs have long voiced concerns about the complexity and inflexibility of the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC), in particular where businesses face a sudden change of demand.  Following unsuccessful negotiations about possible changes to the Directive between the European Social Partners in 2012, the Commission is now preparing a detailed Impact Assessment which will take special account of the concerns of SMEs.
  • Health and safety of workers.  In response to feedback from SMEs that the general obligation for documenting risk assessments is too burdensome, in 2012 the Commission launched a comprehensive policy evaluation to assess the relevance, effectiveness and coherence of the main Directive on safety and health of workers and more than 20 daughter Directives.  Member States should take the concerns of SMEs into account and feed into this evaluation with implementation reports by December 2013.  The conclusions of the evaluation will be available before the end of 2015.
  • Recognition of professional qualifications.  In 2011, the Commission proposed a revised Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications across the EU to ensure consistency with the Services Directive and help SMEs better understand their obligations stemming from both regulations.  Most notably, the revision ensures that all information and procedures related to the recognition of qualifications are available with the Points of Single Contact for all professions.  The rules on temporary mobility will also be modernised so that provision of services becomes easier.  As discussed in our earlier post, the creation of a European professional card would enable the authorities in one Member State to complete the formal processes for the recognition of professional qualifications obtained in other Member States through enhanced online cooperation between Member States.
  • Temporary agency work.  According to SMEs, the administrative burden under Directive 2008/104/EC on temporary agency work is high in particular due to Member State requirements.  For example, companies that wish to be active in several Member States may still have to register in all these Member States separately.  To address SMEs’ concerns, the Commission has undertaken to prepare a report in consultation with Member States and social partners, representing the interests of European workers and European employers by December 2013.  This report will take SMEs’ concerns and regulatory burden aspects into account and will specifically examine how Member States have complied with the requirement to identify and justify current obstacles to the activity of temporary work agencies. The Commission will consider including recommendations to Member States in the country-specific measures for 2014 if the assessment by the Commission of national systems identifies specific regulatory burden aspects as obstacles to growth and competitiveness.
  • Data protection.  The Commission is working closely with the European Parliament and the Council in order to maintain the exceptions for SMEs in those cases where their processing of personal data does not present specific risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. The Commission will also work with the EU legislator to further develop the existing elements of a risk-based approach. This work will focus on calibrating the obligations of data controllers in order further to simplify the regulatory environment and minimise undue administrative burden, whilst maintaining a high level of protection for personal data and the clarity of the legal obligations for data controllers.