The agreement came after four contentious years of negotiations during which Britain led a minority bloc of nations concerned that the rules would hurt the competitiveness of their businesses. Britain dropped its objections after other nations agreed to phase in the new rules more gradually for smaller companies.
The new rules will not take effect for three years, and will then apply only to companies employing 150 or more workers. It will take two more years to apply it to companies with 100 to 150 workers, and will reach down to those employing 50 to100 workers only after a seven-year transition.
The measure was first proposed in 1998 after French car-maker Renault announced the surprise closure of a plant in Belgium, without first warning the work force though it would have been required to do so in its native France, according to Reuters.
The ministers also agreed on amendments to EU directives on sexual equality in the workplace, including:
- common rules to combat sexual harassment
- urging governments to consider the rights of fathers as well as mothers to take more time off work after the birth of a child
They also adopted proposals to tighten controls on potentially harmful noise in workplaces.
These agreements still require approval by the European Parliament.