Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 29 September, 1999

Written Answers. - EU Directives.

215. Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if she will recognise the increased costs to business and the increased level of road congestion that will follow the introduction of Working Time Directive 93-104-EC; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17623/99]

223. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the proposals, if any, she has to carry out a review of the proposed amendments to the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, in relation to EU directive 93-104-EC, with particular regard to the representations (details supplied) in view of the effect it will have on the extra numbers of vehicles and drivers required to implement it and the consequent additional costs to their sector; if the current arrangements could be adhered to with some modifications as opposed to the implementation of this new directive; and the consultations, if any, there will be with this organisation before any decision is made on the matter. [17624/99]

233. Mr. Farrelly asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the negotiations, if any, with the self-employed transport owner drivers regarding their inclusion in the EU Working Time Directive 93-104-EC having regard to the adequate health and safety cover already provided for this sector (details supplied) and the negative impact the directive will have in their operations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17782/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I propose to take Questions Nos. 215, 223 and 233 together.

The concerns of the road transport industry in relation to the proposed Working Time Directive have been conveyed to me by the various industry associations, particularly the Irish Road Haulage Association, IBEC and the Irish Concrete Feder[225] ation. The issues raised include concerns about possible increased costs, the need for additional vehicles and drivers and the inclusion of self employed drivers within the scope of the directive. These are being taken into account in determining Ireland's negotiating position.

The position is that there are already rules about working time for most workers under Directive 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993. The aim of that directive was “to guarantee the protection of workers against the adverse effects on their health and safety arising from excessive working time, insufficient rest or irregular work patterns”. However the directive did not cover sailors, junior doctors or employees in any form of transport. They were left out because it was felt at the time that different rules would be needed for them because of the complexities attached to each occupation.

The Social Affairs Council has now reached political agreement on rules for sailors, junior doctors and transport workers other than those engaged in road transport.

In October 1997, the social partners in the road transport sector established a joint committee at Community level to explore how the Working Time Directive could best be adapted taking account of the particular circumstances of their sector.

On 31 March 1998, the Commission issued a consultation document to the social partners. While sufficient points of convergence were reached by the social partners to draw up the text of a draft joint agreement, they failed to reach agreement by 30 September 1998. The Commission had informed the social partners that, in the absence of agreement by that date, the Commission would come forward with proposals for the sector. This is what it has done.

This Commission proposal has been debated at length at the transport questions working group. Many member states have had difficulty with these initial proposals and political agreement has not yet been reached. The Finnish Presidency is continuing the discussion of the Commission proposal with the objective of achieving an acceptable compromise package. Ireland's objective in this regard is to negotiate a package which provides flexibility for the industry while protecting the health and safety of workers.

The driving hours of mobile workers in transport are currently regulated by the tachograph legislation but other activities such as loading and unloading, cleaning the vehicle, performing safety checks on the vehicle and paperwork are not included in the calculation of driving time. In fact, time which may appear to be a break on a tachograph chart could in fact be occupied with other strenuous activity. Although road transport workers are only permitted to drive for 45 hours a week, they may in fact work in excess of this. The health and welfare of these workers is as important as for workers in any other industry.

It is recognised that the proposed Working Time Directive may have an impact on the indus[226] try. However, this has to be balanced with the protection of health and safety of the workforce on which the industry depends.

I and my Department will remain in regular contact with the various representative associations to ensure that Ireland's negotiating position is informed by their concerns. However, whatever provisions are finally adopted will have to take account of the differing views of member states and the position of the European Parliament.