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|HIGH ON THE SHOPPING LIST OF REFORMS which European trade unions want to see tackled by the new EU Commission is the revision of the Posted Workers directive. Originally brought in to ensure minimum standards of employment for workers moving from one EU Member State to another, successive court decisions have turned its provisions into maxima weakening the ability of both unions and public authorities to obtain further improvements (see past issues). Commission President Barroso has already indicated a willingness to pass regulations to alter it and now both the new Employment Commissioner László Andor and the Spanish labour minister, whose country currently presides over the Council of Ministers, have declared themselves in support of a revision. At a conference held in Oviedo, Spain to discuss possible changes Mr. Andor said that he was||
the European Trade Union Confederation have finished their initial analysis of the effect of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decisions and where to go from here. Unsurprisingly the employers found that there was no need for revision and rejected the ETUC proposal for a Social Progress protocol to be attached to EU treaties. Specific changes to the directive demanded by the unions included moving its objectives of ‘improving the living and working conditions of workers’ from its preamble to the main body of the text, more precisely defining what a ‘posted worker’ is, restoring its minimum character and allowing public authorities to only contract out work to those firms observing local wage rates and conditions. Further projects, conferences and evaluation studies are progressing to find a common position on the way forward.
Celestino Corbacho, Spanish Minister of Labour and Laszlo Andor, the new Commissioner for Employment in Oviedo
‘not yet convinced of the need for a complete overhaul of the Directive’ but confirmed that ‘a legislative proposal to improve legal certainty’ was ‘a top priority for the European Commission’. Celestino Corbacho for the Spanish hosts believed that the ECJ ‘has given precedence to the freedom of establishment to the detriment of social rights, meaning that “we are not dealing with a minor or innocuous problem”’. Meanwhile European business organisations and
AS PORTUGUESE PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS have moved into conflict with the government over a wage freeze and a reduction in pensions, nurses have been pursuing a separate dispute. After reaching agreement on a career scheme last summer, the government opened negotiations with unions in September on the trickier topic of wages. After the re-election of the Socialists at the end of the month new proposals were published which trade unions described as ‘humiliating’. They objected in particular to the lack of account taken of degree qualifications, the faiure to grant a rise to those nurses transferring to the new career structure which demands higher levels of competence, the setting of a quota on the numbers of posts at the top of the structure and a reduction in starting salaries for those at the bottom. A three-day strike was held in January when unions estimated that 90-95% of nurses stopped work. The Minister of Health has now re-started negotiations.
INBEV, THE LARGEST BREWING COMPANY IN THE WORLD, with expected profits of $4.6 billion iin 2009, has announced the closure of a small brewery in a small country: Luxembourg. However if they thought that no-one would notice, trade unions and consumers in the country have got other ideas. There were unprecedented street protests at the company’s plan to relocate production in Belgium but unions felt that a boycott of the local beer brand would only hurt café owners and asked for talks with management. Although Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker promised to make public funds available for a takeover by a Luxembourg firm, InBev show no intention of selling; they want to continue marketing the Diekirch label in the country. Green MEP Claude Turmes plans to question this strategy by raising the issue of geographical origin of beer with the European Commission.
ITALIAN UNIONS, CONCERNED THAT WORKERS made redundant or on short time find their way back into the labour market, have concluded an agreement with employers and national and regional government which sets out guidelines for vocational training. A national committee will gather data, identify short-term training needs and disseminate this information to the trainers at regional and industry level. A new ‘training book’ will record all the skills acquired by workers and a national certification system will ensure that standards are harmonised over the whole country. One of the union federations, CGIL, signed the agreement under protest as they disagreed with ‘both the content and the method’ but felt that ‘the serious condition of the labour market in Italy’ demanded new training guidelines.
Women for top jobs needed in Germany and the unions
GERMANY HAS JOINED THE NETHERLANDS (see our last issue) in seeking urgent action to
increase the number of women executives while European trade unions have found that female members
are decidedly under-represented in their decision-making positions. The third biggest German company Deutsche Telekom is to bring in gender quotas to increase the number of female managers from 12% to 30% by 2015. To make sure that it can achieve this the firm plans to recruit more women graduates, reserve 30% of places on its executive development programmes, expand parental leave and introduce more flexible working. Among the thirty largest German companies there is only one woman on an executive committee and no female chief executive.
Meanwhile on the union side of the fence the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has conducted a survey to find out about the numbers and rôles of women in their member organisations. Produced for International Women’s Day the ‘8th March Survey’ found that about 45% of the total membership of European trade unons was now female. However this strength is far from being reflected in the higher levels of unions with only 7% of decision-making posts in national confederations being held by women. This situation has not improved since last year’s survey, indeed there are fewer female presidents. With regard to membership of General Councils only five countries had a percentage of women that reflected the make-up of their membership. Greece and Cyprus had less than 5% female delegates. However the confederations reported a large number of initiatives to increase their numbers as well as the ETUC’s own conference ‘From membership to leadership: advancing women in trade unions’.