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Unions give latest euro-summit good advice but leaders’ response still unclear
 AS THE ECONOMIC CRISIS CONTINUES UNABATED with the EU and the euro-zone currently at the eye of the storm EU leaders hold regular summits at which European trade unions try to inflluence policy. The latest, in Wroclaw, Poland, was the scene of a demonstration by 50,000 union members as well as a high-level meeting of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) which adopted a statement urging the Council of Ministers and the European Commission to change course. After a succinct summing-up of the travails of the Eurozone on the money markets during the summer, the statement castigates EU institutions and Member State governments as being ‘united only in insisting on austerity programmes rather than progressing towards more comprehensive and long term socially-acceptable solutions’. It also attacks commentators who have called for the break-up of the Eurozone as a ‘quick fix’ for current debt problems because of the ‘economic dislocation’ that would follow.

The worst aspect of the current austerity treatment, according to the ETUC, is that, although it isn’t working an enormous price is being paid for it by the people of the countries concerned. National governments are being forced by the EU institutions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deregulate job and social protection and weaken wage bargaining. The resulting unemployment and cuts have already led to social unrest.
The remedies advocated by the unions have been put forward to previous summits (see our last issue) and this time they add the setting up of a European rating agency, action on tax evasion and the closing of tax havens. Unfortunately the response from EU leaders has not yet appeared. Beset by disagreements among Member States and with objections by the UK and USA seeming to have delayed the the ETUC’s favoured Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), which Germany and France had signed up to, no long-term plan was forthcoming. Instead all eyes turned to the latest sticking plaster to be applied to the Euro and its biggest debtor Greece.

Poster for the Wroclaw march



Bargaining round-up

LISBON CITY COUNCIL HAS BEEN MADE TO CHANGE its mind by the swift action of the STAL and STML trade unions. As part of cost-cutting following the financial crash, services in the Portuguese capital were to be de-centralised and outsourced. Although the unions had only a short time to respond to the proposals they argued that municipal services should not be run like a private business. The council then set up a specific review into refuse collection and waste management to see if it would save money by transferring in-house workers to private companies. Again the trade unions presented evidence using data from the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) which showed that, across Europe, outsourcing had led to a lower quality of service as wages were reduced. The review concluded that there was no advantage to contracting-out and refuse collection, together with other services such as street-lighting were kept in-house.
THE VPÖD-SSP UNION HAS CONCLUDED A GENERAL DEAL for the cleaning sector in Switzerland following two high-profile strikes. In 2009 the cleaners at the federal parliament took strike action to prevent their jobs being outsourced, not only did they win this demand but the union negotiated improved pay, conditions, training and overtime. Last year there was an extended strike by Geneva airport cleaners working for the ISS multinational which was trying to impose individual contracts that reduced pay by between €175 and €1000 a month. The new agreement, which will apply to 50,000 workers in the German-speaking area of the country, will increase the minimum wage by 2-2.5% and add a 13th monthly payment. Together with other unions they have started a new campaign called ‘Fair-Clean’ which will highlight the need for respect and fair pay for cleaners.
EASYJET IS A COMPANY USUALLY ASSOCIATED WITH CHEAP holidays but it seems they want cut-price workers as well. In Berlin 110 pilots and 240 cabin crew have overwhelmingly voted to strike after negotiations on a first-ever contract broke down. Despite warning strikes in April and May management remained intransigent on such issues as ‘wage dumping’ whereby new staff are paid 20% less than those recruited before May 2010. General pay structures and shift patterns are also still in contention. Holger Rößler, chief negotiator for the Verdi trade union explained ‘The employees had already expressed their discontent over the deadlocked negotiations and the tough stance of the employer with two warning strikes…. It's now up to Easyjet to prevent any industrial action’.

Three new directives seek to equalise conditions for migrant workers

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION IS SEEKING TO REGULARISE THE position of migrant workers throughout the EU by means of three new directives. Known by the simplified titles of ‘Single Permit’, ‘Seasonal Work’ and ‘Intra-Corporate Transfer’ the proposed laws would synchronise legislation and practice across the Community while leaving room for national governments to decide how many non-EU workers to admit and whether to restrict their rights to social security, housing and training. The ‘Single Permit’ law will, however guarantee that those that they decide to admit must be issued one document containing a residence permit plus information on permission to work. The directive will not apply to long-term residents and refugees and those already covered by the Posted Workers Directive. Seasonal workers are to have their own legislation which aims to establish a common procedure for entry and residence and to define the rights of non-EU migrants. They must have a binding job offer or contract and will only be able to work for six months in any one year; three year permits should be available. Once they have been admitted seasonal workers will be entitled to equal treatment with locals as regards pensions, social security etc.  It is estimated that about 100,000 workers will be affected by the new law. A much smaller group of approximately 16-20,000 people will be covered by the third of the new migrant worker laws, dealing with  intra-corporate transfers. The Commission’s proposal sets a time limit of thirty days for the entry of highly-qualified specialists, the category of worker most often required for transfer into the EU by companies. At the moment multi-national firms complain that they are faced with a multitude of different rules and procedures in different Member States and that staff often end up in the USA, Canada or Australia as a result. The EU hopes to attract more of these specialists by offering better residency and working conditions.
Reaction to the proposals has not been positive from the trade union movement. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) smelt a rat in the legal basis of the new legislation as the Commission has chosen the article on immigration in the EU treaty rather than that on social policy, thus avoiding the need to consult the unions. The European Metalworkers Federation (EMF) rejected the principle of discriminating against non-EU workers and questioned why seasonals and intra-corporates were excluded from the ‘Single Permit’ law. It criticised the ‘Intra-Corporate Transfer’ law for its lack of inspection provisions or any limits on the size and type of company to be eligible. However the Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström believes that ‘We need a European approach on labour migration that allows our economies to receive the migrants they need’ anddefended the Seasonal Workers directive as an attempt to stop people being ‘taken to Europe under sometimes horrible conditions to work for very little pay‘. Denmark, the UK and Ireland have opted out of the ‘Single Permit’ directive under the Lisbon Treaty agreement while the British House of Lords is to lodge an objection to the ‘Seasonal Work’ proposal.


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