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Modernising Labour Law: Re-Shaping Discourse(s) and Text(s)


The European Union establishes minimum requirements in the field of labour rights and work organisation (EC Treaty, articles 136-139). These requirements regard the consultation and information of workers, working hours, equal treatment and pay, insolvency and the transfer of undertakings. Since the 1990s the discourse on the relationship between the EU and member states in the field of labour law has changed significantly and it has been increasingly supplemented by framework agreements between the EU and the actors involved in the labour law dialogue. From this point of view, the Green Paper on Modernising labour law (Green Paper – Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century – COM/2006/0708 final) invites member states, the social partners and other interested parties to participate in a consultation process and an open debate, in order to look at how labour law can help promote flexibility in conjunction with security, regardless of the type of employment contract. The EU Commission adopted a follow-up communication at the end of the public consultation in 2007 (European Parliament resolution of 11th July 2007 on modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century (2007/2023(INI)). The aim of this paper is to explore how the labour law interactants re-shape their discourse(s) in the field of labour law (analysed from a corpus of EU texts organized in a diachronic perspective) in order to provide communicative response to the global socio-economic, change. In particular, the legislative documents included in the corpus will be presented as a combination of different discourses which, partly because of their interdiscursive relations between them, and partly through the intentional use of lexico-grammatical and socio-pragmatic resources, are strategically exploited to mould the norms/conventions typical of public documents such as Green Papers and consultation documents to promote a positive image of the EU Institutions even in changing/challenging economic circumstances of communities and territories (Bhatia 2002, 2004). Evidence of the mixing of legislative intentions (i.e., to promote “a more skilled, trained, and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to the challenges stemming from the combined impact of globalisation and the ageing of European societies” 1. Introduction – Green Paper on Modernising labour law) on the one hand, and the conflicting corporate rights of the workers (i.e., ‘the security of workers and improvements in the quality of working life as a goal of itself’, the rights of ‘cross-border workers’, First and Second Stage Consultations of Social Partners; COM(97)128 final) on the other hand, will demonstrate how EU institutions try to re-shape generic legislative constructs in a labour law interactants’ accepted manner despite the variations in the lexico-grammatical and discoursal features and in the corresponding corporative/interpretative strategies and expectations (EU Parliament resolution 2007) (Bhatia 2004, 2008; Fairclough 2006).