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ISSUE 57 page 3

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Unions seek to influence new public procurement directive

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT WAS ONE OF THE many areas of EU law that was negatively affected by the series of anti-union judgements in the European Court of Justice over recent years. Both the ‘Rüffert’ and ‘Luxembourg’ cases went against the idea that public authorities could enforce labour and environmental standards in contracts with private firms bidding for work. Now a proposed revision of the EU rules to make it easier for small firms to bid has been seized on as a way of ensuring that bodies such as local and regional councils can include social and environmental criteria in public procurement. At a workshop in October attended by a network of representatives of European trade unions, social and environmental organisations, a spokesperson for the European Commission said that the aims of the revision were simplification and the strengthening of these objectives.  The network formulated five key messages as to what should be allowed as contract stipulations by public authorities including good working conditions and respect for collective bargaining. Others laid down were the ability to mention social and environmental objectives as part of the ‘subject matter’ of a contract, currently highly restricted, the sustainability of a product’s or service’s

the European Commission is also to propose a new directive specifically on service concessions. Making up about 60% of the public-private partnerships in Europe these differ from the usual public contracts in that they offer companies revenue from operating a public service in return for bearing some of the financial risk. They are popular in sectors such as water treatment and waste management.  However trade unions take a more negative view of this revision of the 2004 public procurement directive. Although there will be certain exceptions, such as public transport, the proposal makes no distinction between private and public services and both the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) fear that it will lead to more privatisation in areas like water distribution and waste collection. They believe that ‘Balanced information regarding the “pros” and “cons” of different ways of delivering public services is lacking, and indeed biased against public sector delivery’. Whatever the outcome of the discussions the stakes are high, public procurement spending accounts for 17% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the EU’s economy.

Network for Sustainable Public Procurement meeting in Brussels

production process, the removal of ‘lowest price only’ options and the consideration of the ‘track records’ of bidders. These should be enforced by contract penalties if a successful bidder or sub-contractor fails to deliver sustainable development. Alongside the general public procurement revision



Stress agreement: involve unions for best results
IN 2004 THE SOCIAL PARTNERS AT EUROPEAN LEVEL signed an agreement on the prevention of stress at work which, for only the second time, relied for its implementation on unions and employers in each Member State, rather than the passing of a directive by the EU authorities (see issue 29). As part of the deal regular evaluation reports had to be issued by the European Commission. Now the first of these has praised the effect of the agreement in raising awareness of the problem that was reported by 28% of workers in the EU. Social dialogue and policy development on stress has been either started or speeded up in eleven Member States and fourteeen countries now have a specific legal framework to address it. In Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Romania binding national collective bargaining has been used to implement the agreement. Most of the others have either passed legislation or concluded voluntary deals.  The Commission however points to weaknesses in not following up implementation with evaluation in many countries, in not exploiting the full potential of the agreement in others and in partial implementation only in a third group. In France all companies with more than 1,000 employees have been required to sign a stress agreement since 2009 following a spate of suicides at France Télécom (see issue 50), but a recent analysis found that the deals were short on concrete action to prevent psycho-social risks. They were usually administered by an ad-hoc steering group rather than the existing health and safety committees which have legal status and involve trade unions. Union involvement is also a problem in the newer Member States where membership is low and such issues have not traditionally been dealt with by the social partners. Other obstacles to  effective, practical anti-stress measures, according to the European Commission, are difficulties in defining which stress is work-related, the sensitivity of the topic in general, lack of influence by national bodies that sign the agreements over sectoral and company-level bargainers and weakness of government bodies in enforcement.

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