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ISSUE 51 page 4

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Europe 2020? Let’s get through 2010 first, say unions!

AFTER A PROLONGED PERIOD OF CONSULTATION, COGITATION AND CO-ORDINATION the European Commission has come up with a replacement for the Lisbon process of modernisation designed to produce the ‘most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’ by this year. Europe 2020 aims to be a ‘a vision of Europe's social market economy for the 21st century’. The emphasis is on economic growth as the creator of jobs but the Commission wants this to be smart, sustainable and inclusive. Education, innovation and the digital society must be fostered to ensure that economic expansion is knowledge-based, the use of resources must be more efficient to ensure that growth is sustainable and based on low-carbon industry, and nobody must be left behind as new jobs are created so skills must be acquired and labour market participation raised. To this end five targets are set by the strategy to be met by 2020: 75% of the working age population employed (up from an unmet 70% in the Lisbon process), 3% of GDP to be spent on research, a 20% reduction in  carbon emissions with 20% of EU energy being generated from renewable sources, less than 10% of school pupils leaving early, and 40% acquiring a degree, and 20 million less people at risk of poverty. According to EU Commission President Barroso the targets are ‘ambitious but attainable’ and the strategy designed to ‘look beyond the short term’ to get Europe ‘back on track’.
The initial reaction of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) described the plan as ‘flawed’, criticising its failure to address the causes of the financial crash and to remedy the tendency for tax systems and capital markets to ‘encourage speculation and short-termism at the expense of long-term commitment to the real economy’. It also beseeched Laszlo Andor, the Employment Commissioner to focus more on unemployment, particularly among young people. The social partners naturally differed in their view of the new initiative but, after meetings with President Barroso and Commissioner Andor,  the ETUC and Business Europe agreed on a joint statement that stressed the need for economic growth and job creation as well as reform of the global economic system and blamed the relative failure of the Lisbon process on a lack of co-ordination at EU-level of the plans of individual Member States. While there have been improvements in the strategy since its first draft, such as the targets for poverty reduction and educational attainment requested by the European Parliament and the European Youth Forum, the sections on disabled people and women still disappoint bodies such as the European Women’s Lobby and the European Disability Forum seeking more concrete targets and commitments. The ETUC, for its part, sees the current vogue for austerity packages and public spending cuts among national governments as the biggest barrier to achieving the aims of Europe 2020.

Spanish harmony evaporates before ink dries on agreement
Ireland: strikes boom as economy crashes

AFTER THE NATIONAL FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT was recently signed by Spanish unions and employers (see our last issue) the government congratulated both parties and harmony reigned. In a few short weeks however this has disappeared as Prime Minister Zapatero announced austerity measures to head off pressure from financial markets to add to public sector job cuts already approved.  Only one in ten of the vacancies caused by retiring civil servants will be filled until 2013 in aid of reducing the budget deficit by 5.7% of GDP. Reportedly under pressure from U.S. President Obama, Mr. Zapatero has loosened labour laws, allowing employers to lay off workers more easily and to pay only 25 days of salary as severance rather than 45. Public sector wages will also be reduced by 5% in a package designed to take €15 billion out of the economy. The trade union attitude has changed completely since the framework agreement: the CCOO federation criticised a lack of consultation and together with the UGT called a general strike for September 29th. This will coincide with a European Day of Action organised by the European Trade Union Confederation (see page 3).

FOR IRELAND 2009 WAS A YEAR OF public spending cuts, greatly increased unemployment and a nose-diving economy. This has now been underlined by recently released statistics for both wages and strikes. Average weekly earnings decreased by 0.8% from the year before reflecting a reduction in average hours worked of 2.6%. The weekly earnings of clerical, sales and service employees fell by 3% while production, transport, craft and other manual workers saw a decline of 2.8%. A decrease of 0.2% was recorded for managers, professionals and ‘associated professionals’. Not surprisingly discontent with both pay and job cuts led to the re-emergence of widespread industrial action but the scale of the increase was staggering. 329,706 working days were lost to disputes in 2009, compared with 4,179 days in 2008 (a 79-fold increase). Between 2001 and 2008 the average annual figure was about 30,000 days. Although the manufacturing and transport sectors recorded greatly increased figures, the public sector accounted for 75% of the total stoppage days and 95% of the workers involved. A one-day national public sector strike in November saw 265,400 employees walk out and added up to 72% of total days lost.

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