Social law to by-pass UK

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THE GOVERNMENT is to be left out of negotiations on a controversial piece of European social legislation, even though many British companies will be covered by it.

Padraig Flynn, the Social Affairs Commissioner, said yesterday that he was going ahead with a directive on European works councils under the Social Protocol of the Maastricht treaty. Because John Major negotiated an opt-out for Britain at the Maastricht summit, this does not include Britain, though British companies with large operations on the Continent will be covered. It is likely to bring some of Britain's leading companies into conflict with the Government, since the social policy opt-out means no minister can plead their case. 'They are placed in a legal bind,' Steven Hughes, Labour MEP for Durham.

Works councils are aimed at helping to inform workers about decisions taken by multinational companies. The directive would set up consultative bodies for firms employing 1,000 employees in the EU, and at least 100 employees in two member states.

Mr Flynn unveiled a new Green Paper on European social policy yesterday that sets out the Commission's plans. 'European social policy is now entering a critical phase,' said Mr Flynn. It says that the EU should 'achieve minimum guarantees about health, safety and employment conditions' by 'exploiting to the full the possibilities offered by the Social Agreement of the Maastricht treaty'. British workers would be excluded from this, Mr Hughes pointed out, and said that legal action to force Britain into line might follow.

A WORLD trade agreement may need to be agreed by the European Parliament, a senior lawyer for the institution said yesterday. His comments came as the parliament indicated it wanted to play a much larger role in the European Union.

'Even the Gatt agreement could be subject to parliamentary approval,' said Emilio De Capitani, in charge of legislative co-ordination for the parliament.