Report of EPSU Social Dialogue and Collective Bargaining Conference, Brussels 3-4 December 2007
EPSU deputy secretary, Jan-Willem Goudriaan, welcomed 91 delegates from 20 countries to the federation’s sixth conference on collective bargaining and social dialogue. He put the conference in perspective with a brief round-up of events in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Hungary where EPSU affiliates were taking action to defend their pay, pensions and bargaining rights.
Jan-Willem explained that the conference would have a similar format to recent years but would also begin a new and more strategic debate over the future of European industrial relations in the public services.
Inter-sectoral social dialogue Maria Helena Andre, deputy general secretary ETUC
Maria-Helena Andre, deputy general secretary of the ETUC got the conference underway with a review of developments in the inter-sectoral social dialogue. She said that overall it had been a difficult year with the political crisis over the reform treaty dragging on. There was still very little of positive to note. The working time and agency workers directives were back on the agenda but it was thought unlikely the European Council would be able to make progress with some Member States determined to block them.
Although the social dialogue itself had not produced a great deal it had been effectively the only source of social-oriented results for the last four or five years. Although the results might appear marginal in some countries the social dialogue was important in others, particularly some of the new Member States where social dialogue at European level was a stimulus for action at national level.
One of the main developments in 2007 was the signing of the framework agreement on violence at work that had initially been blocked by the employers who had refused to automatically include third party violence in the agreement. However, progress was made by securing an agreement that would leave it to the discretion of the national social partners to include third-party violence in their agreement.
There had also been progress on a joint analysis of labour market challenges. This had initially been a difficult debate with the employers wanting to focus only on “flexicurity” issues whereas the ETUC wanted, and succeeded in getting, a wider analysis and a number of specific recommendations addressed to public authorities at national and European level.
Unfortunately, she reported that the framework of actions on gender equality had not yet delivered a great deal and that not much was happening on gender pay gap although this was an ETUC priority and had to be addressed much more seriously.
Maria Helena said that the ETUC had managed to enlarge the agenda and get the employers away from concentrating just on the deregulation agenda. Future work would include a framework of actions on employment and possible agreements on on lifelong learning or dealing with those at risk of exclusion from labour market.
A review of parental leave directive was possible with the ETUC keen to find out how this had been implemented at national level. The ETUC argues that the social partners must take more responsibility for ensuring the directive takes affect but employers’ organisations are unwilling to do this. The ETUC had sent a questionnaire sent to its member organisations to gauge progress and indicate to ETUC how to proceed and possibly extend scope of discussion over reconciliation of work and family life.
Maria Helena foresaw two potential conflicts - one on the Commission’s proposals on revision of the directive on European works councils and the other on transnational collective agreements. The employers were opposed to revising the EWC directive arguing that the current directive’s potential had not been exhausted. Meanwhile no progress had been made on the proposed optional legal framework on transnational collective agreements because of employer opposition.
She said that while the social dialogue had produced a lot of instruments, more attention had to be paid to how member organisations have been using these. There was an internal ETUC discussion to look at difficulties encountered over last 20 years, asking the fundamental question, “have we been able to improve the rights of members?”.
Maria Helena argued that there was a need to improve links with the sectoral social dialogue, with a better flow of information into the inter-sectoral social dialogue. She reported that a European Commission conference at the end of November had brought out into the open results of social dialogue and revealed that there was a lot to learn between two levels. The Commission apparently understands this and will try to facilitate this in future.
In the discussion Maria Helena was asked about building capacity, support for the social dialogue, restructuring and how to build up pressure on the employers. She said that there was a joint project on capacity building with the employers which was promoting mentoring and training with funds available for national organisations to organised training on the European social dialogue. There had been projects analysing restructuring work first in Central and Eastern European now in the EU15. She felt that some positive things were happening in terms of how to deal with restructuring with the possible development of common procedures or guidelines to produce a kind of toolkit to help deal with restructuring. Maria Helena said that the ETUC was exerting pressure all the time on employers and that although a more aggressive approach was possible, they had to be careful about the issues chosen for this and what can be delivered by more aggressive action.
Overview of collective bargaining in Europe Maarten Keune - ETUI
ETUI researcher gave figures from recent collective bargaining surveys that showed that overall wage growth in real terms had been below 1% a year over the last seven years across the EU, with even lower growth of 0.5% in the Euro area. There were large differences between countries with much higher increases in the new Member States. Wage growth had been particularly restrained in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy.
There had been a growing gap between productivity and wage growth with a declining share in wages and a clear impact from European monetary union. According to Maarten, there had been a change in the balance of power between employers and unions, with an increased use of the threat of relocation in collective bargaining strategies.
The ETUC Congress had noted recent trends to “excessive” wage moderation and had called for more co-ordination and greater European integration. Congress also recommended that there should be an improved flow of information between countries and a new newsletter was planned. The ETUC was also looking at the issue of gender mainstreaming and the possibility of developing common demands along the lines developed by the EMF metalworkers’ federation.
Statistics on the gender pay gap showed a small decrease in inequality but there were also some countries where the gap was increasing. There had been some very high increases in statutory minimum wage rates, particularly in the new Member States but there was still a very wide range in values. The ETUC Congress had voted to support national campaigns on minimum wages and to reinforce campaigns to reduce the gender pay gap.
Maarten reported that there had been some debate on the idea of a minimum wage policy across Europe. The tendency within the ETUC’s collective bargaining committee was a reluctance to take this on because of fear of European norm overtaking national priorities
In the discussion that followed it was pointed out that there remained a very big gap between income levels in the old and new EU. In Bulgaria there was a loss of highly qualified workers with negative trends in public services. It was suggested that a strategy was needed to deal with this, with perhaps transnational agreements over emigration.
It was suggested that more co-ordination was needed in order to escape wage moderation across Europe. However, in his conclusions Maarten argued that it was a major challenge to take the initiative at European level when bargaining activity took place at national level.
Review of collective bargaining in the public services Richard Pond, EPSU
Richard Pond provided an overview of some of the key developments highlighting that it had been a major challenge in several countries over recent years to maintain pay rises in line with inflation. In Portugal and France public sector unions were not just trying to secure cost-of-living increases but were also demanding proper and regular collective bargaining procedures. In Italy it wasn’t so much the process of collective bargaining that was problematic but the fact that the government had failed to provide finance in the budget to pay the increases that had been negotiated. National strike action had taken place in all three countries to support union demands.
Public service unions continued to try to negotiate higher pay increases for lower paid workers, particularly since most of the low paid were women and so such low pay policies also contributed to attempts to close the gender pay gap. Pay deals in local government in the UK, Norway and Sweden had included provisions aimed at the low paid.
Although there was continued pressure in Germany for longer weekly working hours in the public sector, no other country had so far reported significant moves in this area.
In the discussion that followed it was pointed out that UK public sector unions were looking to co-ordinate their collective bargaining in 2008 in response to the government’s determination to set a 2% pay limit.
In the Czech Republic there was evidence of the quality of collective bargaining getting worse at national level with employers’ associations being dismantled. Bargaining in the public sector was very difficult with high inflation, low pay offers from the government and the influence of privatisation and overseas companies on pay.
In Finland the unions and employers had agreed on a target of reducing the gender pay gap by 5% reduction by 2015 and although in recent years developments had not been so positive the most recent negotiations had delivered higher increases for sectors where women are the majority.
From Ireland there was a particular warning that significantly better pension provision in the public sector was being used to reduce pay awards and similar fears were expressed from UK delegates.
Social dialogue round up
EPSU officers provided brief overviews of developments in the sectoral social dialogue. In electricity EPSU had been pushing outsourcing in various statements and was working on a number of specific projects including corporate social responsibility and restructuring in south east Europe. There was cautious optimism about securing an agreement on the issue of third-party violence. The gas sector social dialogue followed closely the main developments as in electricity although it had only just been established as a formal committee.
Local and regional government
Penny Clarke reported that one focus of the committee had been on improving social dialogue with the problem of weak national level contacts in some countries. The committee was looking at restructuring, the motivation behind it and the impact on employment conditions. Key issues included procurement and third party violence and a move to a three-year work programme was under consideration.
National and European administration
Nadja Salson said that gender equality had been a central issue and within the debate it had been possible to emphasise role of collective bargaining and social dialogue in tackling the gender pay gap. The setting up of a formal committee was getting closer but work was continuing on agreeing a work programme rather and planning joint statements on issues like the Lisbon Agenda and better deregulation; demographic change; and building trust in government. Jan Willem Goudriaan stressed that recent progress towards setting up a formal committee had been very positive with the prospect of bringing to an end a 20-year process.
Tamara Goosens highlighted the main issues, including the internal market in health; the ageing workforce; new skill needs; lifelong learning; progress in the social dialogue in the New Member States. It was possible that the committee would agree a common position on the European Commission’s plans for health services. This will form part of the 2008-2010 work plan.
Jan Willem Goudriaan outlined the recent progress made in the electricity and gas social dialogue committees where a major issue of debate had been the results of the second investigation into the impact of privatisation and liberalisation on employment in the energy sector. The report supported EPSU’s earlier estimates that some 300,000 jobs had been lost from the sector. While the electricity committee was now well established and recent work programmes had covered issues such as equality and diversity, skills shortages and health and safety, there was still concern about the limited impact of the European social dialogue at national level.
The 2004 Congress resolution on collective bargaining identified the recruitment and retention of young workers and older workers as areas of policy that should be developed over the period 2004-2009. The 2006 collective bargaining conference discussed issues around young workers but the debate was inconclusive with several contributions sceptical about a policy focusing specifically on young workers. In response to this a different approach was adopted in drafting a policy paper on age management, in attempt to integrate policies on these different groups of workers but also to put them in perspective in terms of the overall age profile of public service organisations. Two specific examples of age management were then discussed.
The Super trade union for nurses and care workers in Finland wanted to do something about the stress and fatigue arising from large amounts of shift work. It wanted to draw up a guide or some form of best practice. Local government employers and other unions also wanted to get involved. Funding was obtained for a three-year project that enabled the collection of best practice and development of training materials for working time workshops that were being organised. It was planned to review progress in 2009 to see to what extent innovative working time has been introduced.
The City of Helsinki’s technical department has a workforce where 60% are over 45 and employed in construction, electricity and water supply and maintenance work, vehicle rental and maintenance, logistics services. The Department introduced an age management policy, adopting a holistic approach that reflected years of preparation and co-operation between management and employees. The various elements of the policy included actions directed at management, occupational training, transferring know-how into practice and looking at working time arrangements and pay systems. Occupational health experts, human resources managers and outside consultants were all involved.
One aim of the policy was to retain people at work by providing good occupational health throughout working life and the development of flexible working time and flexible working methods. Special programmes for people aged over 45 were introduced but there was active participation by all employees who were provided with information and advice on how to help with occupational and psychological health. There were also initiatives around holidays and recuperative time off, with the provision of “wellness” holidays where the employer contributes to the cost but the employee uses their own leave entitlement. Supervisors, employees and occupational health care staff all record information in the system that includes a traffic light system warning of employee becoming ill. The results so far appear to be positive with all parties committed to project, including employees some of whom were initially unsure about the initiative.
The discussion indicated some concern that in many countries employers wouldn’t adopt similar policies without a legal framework and that in many cases migrant workers are filling the demand for labour and a younger workforce. However, it was felt that the concept of age management was a move in right direction with the idea of maintaining solidarity between the generations.
English information on Ministry website - www.moli.fi
Sustainable development Richard Pond, EPSU
Richard Pond made a brief introduction highlighting how many trade unions had recognised the need to respond to climate change but few advances had yet been made through the process of collective bargaining. Contributions to the discussion revealed some initiatives. In the Netherlands ABVAKABO was looking at greener traffic, flexible working hours, home working and a better match work of and private life.
In the UK, Unite had developed a model policy for collective bargaining, motivated by workplace reps in the higher education sector where there was a very positive response from workplace reps including many young workers who were enthusiastic about the idea of workplace environment reps. In other countries little progress had been made but there was interest to see how policies could be developed, although it was also acknowledged that this issue required a much broader response than could be achieved through collective bargaining alone.
It was pointed out that any progress on matters such as a green travel-to-work policy needed to be extended to private contractors.
In France trade unions had been involved in talks with local authorities, employers and other bodies and arrived at a consensus on a wide range of measures that needed to be taken in transport, energy and housing. This involved a broader approach to changing national and regional policies.
There was some scepticism about this being a priority area for collective bargaining with because of the importance of being able to deal adequately with the key issues of pay and conditions but there also a feeling that the potential for progress in this area needed to be explored further. The ETUC’s “Greening the workplace” initiative would be followed in particular to keep tabs on how the issue was being developed in different sectors across Europe.
Future of industrial relations
Introduction by Carola Fischbach-Pyttel
The EPSU general secretary provided a short introduction to the session with some background on EPSU initiatives on collective bargaining and debates on the topic at the congresses in 2000 and 2004.
Carola highlighted four particular themes that were at the centre of current work on collective bargaining - these were the continuing exchange of information on collective bargaining developments between affiliates, progress in developing the sectoral social dialogue and the possibility of co-ordination on some key issues, the continuing debate around a legal framework for transnational collective agreements and the potential for working on common issues in European works councils.
She explained that EPSU had developed a co-ordination role that focused mainly on the exchange of information among affiliates but that there was still some way to go in terms of co-ordination of policy and action. The main question was then was the expectation that this should continue and that we would be in a similar position in five to 10 years time or could more substantial steps be taken towards an effective co-ordination of strategy and policy.
Franz Traxler, Professor, Vienna University
Professor Traxler noted the growing Europeanisation of trade unions, with greater impetus for unions to think at a European level in response to the Europeanisation of the economy and of multinational employers. Unions were looking to respond to the challenge of social dumping, particularly in export industries, and pressures arising from the threat of relocation. The European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF) had taken the lead on this and research on collective bargaining in metal industry indicated that there is closer relationship in results of collective bargaining in metal sector across a number of countries.
Professor Traxler argued that that there was a very different impact of internationalisation on the public sector which was still very much anchored in national conditions, however, there was some evidence of Europeanisation or internationalisation with the spread of new public management among public sector employers, for example. He said that the peculiarities of the public sector might mean a different approach to co-ordination and that some of the main issues might revolve around international outsourcing and the control of competition. Professor Traxler also pointed out that the wide variety of types of employment status across the public sector, including civil servants and private contract employees, with some limitations on right to strike, made it more difficult to identify common aims across the sector as a whole.
Paul Marginson, Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Warwick, UK
Professor Marginson began by highlighting the importance of sector-level agreements as the cornerstone of most national industrial relations systems but admitting that at European level sector-level industrial relations were still much less developed. He noted a marked variation between sectors in terms of both collective bargaining and social dialogue with some cross-border bargaining on working time in the transport sector, for example.
Professor Marginson then talked about moves towards cross-border bargaining co-ordination and the possibility of wages becoming a European issue. In contrast, many employers want further decentralisation to company level and lower. The European industry federation have been taking a number of initiatives, including inter-regional projects that have focused on Germany and the Benelux and Nordic regions. These consist of exchanges of information, common bargaining targets and wage bargaining norms. These are more apparent in the manufacturing rather than service sectors.
Professor Marginson pointed out the challenges - how to agree on objectives; how do you evaluate the outcomes; which measure of productivity is relevant for the wage co-ordination guideline; how do you cost qualitative improvements in agreements; how do you integrate single or company-based bargaining systems as in the UK and several New Member States; and what about two-tier bargaining where sector-level bargaining combines with productivity bargaining at company level. The challenge is also about the different levels of engagement from trade unions; different national priorities and the difficulties of enforcing voluntary targets and guidelines. For Professor Marginson it was interesting to see how some European works councils are extending their role beyond information and consultation and looking to sign more transnational agreements.
Bart Samyn, Deputy General Secretary, European Metalworkers’ Federation
Bart Samyn set out the background to how the EMF had developed its collective bargaining co-ordination work, highlighting the impact of economic crises and deindustrialisation and the international nature of metal industry. The Federation went from a process focussing very much on sharing information to one where there was more impetus to take action. Employer attacks on collective agreements and the threat of downward pressure on wages were the background to key collective bargaining conferences in 1993 and 1996. The initial plan was to try to create a bargaining space in Europe with a much longer-term perspective of harmonising bargaining and negotiating framework agreements at European level. In fact, metal sector employers proved very reluctant to agree to any formal social dialogue at European level.
The EMF approach was to make progress on its own by adopting a three-pronged approach. Firstly, it developed a better exchange of information through an annual collective bargaining report, rapid exchange of information on strikes and important negotiations as well as changes in legislation. This was mainly through the EUCOB@ network developed since the end of the 1990s. The second part of the strategy was inter-regional co-operation that was developed in 1996 and recognised that it was not possible to achieve everything at a European level.
The third element involves guidelines, minimum standards and common demands. The voluntary guidelines are not binding and are political rather than scientific. On working time, for example, it took three years to develop the guideline with such a wide range of weekly hours worked across the industry throughout Europe. A compromise was agreed on a minimum standard of a 38-hour week.
The wage co-ordination rule is about achieving real increases in pay along with a share of productivity increases. The formula can involve non-wage elements and it is not enforced as such but exerts a moral effect. The EMF supports the idea of legal framework for transnational agreements but is disappointed that the European Commission has taken this up on company level only. Bart underlined the EMF policy that trade unions are the only negotiators and that EWCs have a subsidiary role in the process. The EMF had worked out a negotiating procedure and signed three agreements as a Federation with three companies - with Areva on equality, with Schneider on anticipation of change and with an as yet unnamed company where the agreement was about to be signed on anticipation of change and training.
A key issue in the discussion that followed was the impact of competition on public services, the spread of outsourcing and privatisation and the two-tier workforce. The threat of deregulation and impact of competition policy was making it all the more important for trade unions to defend collective agreements and ensure most workers continued to be covered by such agreements - this includes, in particular, migrant workers.
Further discussion of the legal framework for transnational agreements underlined the importance of its coverage and that such agreements would not interfere in national systems. The key challenge was to create a European version of what its available at national level, clarifying who is representative, who signs the agreements and what processes were available for mediation.
Carola wound up the debate by highlighting two key questions for the three working groups that would continue discussing the theme of the future of European industrial relations. The groups were invited to discuss what type of co-ordination needs do we have - so, for example, what can we do about low pay issues. And secondly what instruments do we need in order to make co-ordination more effective.
The main points from the workshop report backs included:
- suggested that EPSU should look at what is possible at sectoral level
- need for better and more coherent guidelines
- look in particular at pay co-ordination - methods of evaluation, reference to inflation, productivity - and what about minimum wages and low pay
- potential for regional co-ordination eg among some Mediterranean countries over impact of immigration on pay
- need for more information - more readily available and in more languages
- improve two-way flow between national and European level
- clarify the role of European works councils in bargaining
- need to acknowledge the particular problems of New Member States
- issues to cover should include parental leave, work-life balance, equal pay, migration issues, sustainable development
- more information on economic and social context
- more languages for meetings, particularly for New Member States
- how to get multinational companies to stick to collective agreements
- should investigate cross-border initiatives and problems in union structures that make this more difficult
- public services too diverse to set general targets - look at alternative ways to improve minimum wages
- establish or check guidelines at national level
In a general round-up of the conference and EPSU’s work on social dialogue and collective bargaining co-ordination, there was some agreement as to the need to continue the exchange of information and development of policy. However, there was also a suggestion that there should be more of a focus on monitoring and implementation of policies so that there is a better follow up.
It was also argued that there was a need for improvement in the communication and analysis of information to provide a clearer understanding of important trends. There was a proposal that EPSU focus on some specific areas where information could be collected and collective agreements translated. Participants were encouraged to continue sending in details of their negotiations and new agreements and these details would be added to an online database.
While participants could see some value in organising annual conferences there was also support for focussing more on sectors and feeding this into the standing committees.
Jan Willem said that the EPSU Congress would take place on 6-11 June 2009 and that the resolution on collective bargaining would set out the main areas that the federation would focus on in the period up to 2014.
Richard explained that EPSU had successfully submitted an application for European Commission funding for a follow up project in 2008 that would cover the costs of organising a workshop for energy affiliates and three regional conferences on social dialogue and collective bargaining in London, Berlin and Rome.