EPSU-ETUI Collective Bargaining Seminar 23-25 May 2012
A report of the meeting is given below and the briefing note provides background information on the main themes discussed during the seminar:
EPSU’s collective bargaining network
the impact of economic governance on collective bargaining
coordination of policy within the ETUC
how industriAll coordinates collective bargaining
collective bargaining priorities and work programme
improving the flow of information
The seminar was convened to discuss the main challenges facing collective bargaining in the public services, particularly in the light of the developments at European level in relation to economic governance. The other theme was to reflect on EPSU’s collective bargaining work and to consider whether any of the initiatives taken in previous years by the European Metalworkers’ Federation (now part of the IndustriAll European trade union) could be usefully adopted by EPSU.
There were 13 participants from 11 countries: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Macedonia and Sweden.
Economic Governance and Collective Bargaining
ETUC advisor Ronald Janssen gave an overview of the system of economic governance and the extent to which it had been set up with a bias towards wage moderation. Effectively Germany was seen as a model to emulate and there was a clear lack of balance in terms of the approach to wage developments.
Not only this but the European institutions were increasingly intervening in the structures and processes of collective bargaining at national level with recommendations for countries to reform wage indexation systems and/or decentralise collective bargaining. The pressure was on to improve competitiveness with a key aim to link wages and wage developments more closely to productivity.
Participants noted some trends at national level that reflected those at European level. Pressure on minimum wages, austerity measures and the impact of privatisation and outsourcing on collective bargaining were highlighted as some of the factors facing public sector trade unions.
There was also concern at the implications for the public services of the emphasis on productivity. The pressure from the European institutions on wage moderation in the public sector in particular was noted, although it was stressed that there was little, if any, evidence for the claim that the public sector took the lead in pay trends with most participants pointing to the continuing influence of the manufacturing, export or specifically the metal sector in setting the pace on pay.
ETUC Proposals for Collective Bargaining Coordination
ETUC confederal secretary Luca Visentini set out the background to the current debates in the ETUC about how to improve the coordination of collective bargaining. He underlined the need for a close cooperation with the European trade union federations and the need to protect the European social model and rebuild or strengthen national collective bargaining systems where they were weak or under attack.
Luca argued that the challenges described by Ronald required a new approach and that the ETUC was planning to undertake a major project covering four key themes: strengthening collective bargaining; defensive agreements and opening clauses; minimum wages and collective bargaining coverage; and cross-border collective bargaining in multinational companies.
The ETUC was also setting up a new taskforce, including representatives from some of the national confederations and the European trade union federations, that was seen as a way of strengthening the work of the collective bargaining committee.
Collective Bargaining Coordination in the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF)
Bart Samyn, deputy general secretary of the new European trade union federation IndustriAll (which includes the old EMF), explained how collective bargaining coordination had developed in the EMF over the previous 20 years. He described the three core elements of the Federation’s collective bargaining work: regional networks, the eucoba information exchange system and the common guidelines.
The latest initiative had been the move from guidelines setting minimum standards (for example on working time and pay) to common demands that are integrated into collective bargaining claims at national level. The first two were on the individual right to training and measures to deal with precarious employment.
Bart also explained the structure within the EMF and in the new Federation with a collective bargaining committee with 60-70 members meeting once a year, a select working party of around 15 meeting four or five times a year and a collective bargaining conference that was convened every four years that was like a political congress and had been used to launch the common demands.
The participants divided into two groups to discuss in more detail some of the themes arising from the first three sessions. Some of the key points to emerge from the discussions included:
EMF model was interesting but perhaps more difficult to implement in EPSU because of the difference between EPSU sectors;
Lack of awareness of information provided by EPSU and recommended that there was a need to review whether it was being used;
Some interest in regional initiatives and also suggested that a structure could be based on national coordinators, then regional coordinators feeding into a European network;
Important to identify common issues on which it would be possible to work and not to be to ambitious;
Range of issues raised during discussions – ageing workforce, employee rights, occupational safety and diseases, wage trends, minimum and average salaries, working time, personal development, bonuses and indexation.
Richard Pond described the development of EPSU’s work on collective bargaining information referring to past annual reports, the information on the website and the bimonthly email newsletter. Participants were asked to comment on the information received from EPSU and to explain how they reported on their collective bargaining to their own members and to the public.
There was a range of different practices with a contrast between some unions, like FOA in Denmark that made particular efforts to publicise the collective bargaining process and others in countries like Macedonia and the Czech Republic where the political situation was different and it was not always seen as helpful to publicise collective bargaining.
EPSU Collective Bargaining Conference Draft Programme
Richard Pond explained how the draft programme for EPSU’s collective bargaining conference had been put together and invited participants to comment on the content and format as well and also to comment on previous conferences. The following points summarise the discussion:
It was trying to cover too many issues
There could be different approaches to workshop format but a general need to keep presentations short
Need more practical information for bargainers – examples of what has been achieved
Interest in the pensions discussion with suggestions for focus on flexibility and examples of good negotiating outcomes (eg at Deutsche Post) also interest in the equal pay debate and useful to further debate the initiatives on coordination in the energy sector
Below are specific suggestions for alternative topics:
Health and safety
Dealing with privatisation and outsourcing and their effects on collective bargaining
Further discussion of the WISUTIL project on pay and conditions in the utilities
Pay disputes and member recruitment
Conclusions and reflections on a collective bargaining network
A number of important issues came up during the seminar which will help provide some focus to EPSU’s collective bargaining work and it was clear that some further thought had to be given to the way that information was collected and disseminated and above all what kind of information was of practical use to negotiators.
The idea of setting up a collective bargaining network or adopting any of the elements of the EMF strategy were still very much up for discussion and would again be debated at the EPSU collective bargaining conference in December. One essential factor in how these might develop was the sectoral nature of EPSU’s structure.
It was hoped that European Commission funding would be available for the conference and if the application were successful it would also allow for another meeting in the spring of 2013 to work further on some of these themes.