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ISSUE 59 page 2

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Growth finally on EU agenda but ‘old and tired recipes’ still dominate, say unions
 USED TO LAMBASTING THE SUCCESSIVE TREATIES AND PLANS of EU leaders designed to enforce economic austerity European trade unions issued a more nuanced response to the latest efforts of the European Commission which, at least tried, to move economic growth up the governmental agenda. Faced with rapidly increasing unemployment levels, latest figures indicate that 24.5 million people are without work in the EU (see page 9), the Commission launched its ‘employment package’. Introducing the measures László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said ‘current levels of unemployment in the EU are dramatic and unacceptable. Job creation must become a real European priority. If we are to restore growth and cope with major structural changes like the greening of the economy, an ageing population and technological change, the EU needs a dynamic and inclusive European labour market’. Among the proposals are job creation subsidies and a shift in taxes from labour to the environment, stimulation of the green economy to create 20 million jobs before 2020 and improving skills and planning in the growth sectors of health care, information technology and personal and household services. The Commission’s thoughts on labour market reforms vary in trade union-friendliness from the sinister-sounding ‘internal flexibility’ to the welcome ‘decent and sustainable wages ... avoiding low-wage traps’.  
Andor, L.Niemiec, J.
While ‘developing lifelong learning’ would seem acceptable the emphasis on labour mobility smacks of the ‘old and tired recipes’ which the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) mentions in its response. The ETUC is encouraged by the fact that the focus of the Commission is now on reducing unemployment and welcomes many of the proposals such as involving the social partners in economic planning and supporting youth employment. However it says that continued austerity will undermine these plans as deficit cutting will deny the funds necessary for investment in skills, training and higher wages and they will remain as good intentions only. Trying to square this circle by falling back on concepts such as ‘flexicurity’ will only produce insecure jobs in an environment of austerity, say unions. Joszef Niemiec, ETUC Deputy General Secretary, identifies the need for new funding streams such as a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) and Eurobonds to kick-start investment in the expanding, green sectors of the economy The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is also predicting in a new report that there will be no job recovery in the EU until 2016 ‘unless there is a dramatic shift in policy direction’, and an increased risk of social unrest. Therefore, mobilising investment funds is vital it says so that we  ‘can build on the new employment package proposed by the European Commission’.

ETUC DGS Niemiec and Employment Commissioner Andor

 

 

Bargaining round-up

THE FAILURE OF EMPLOYERS IN CYPRUS TO HONOUR the terms of previously agreed deals has led to fraught negotiations and strikes on the eastern Mediterranean island. Citing the economic crisis firms in the public transport, dock, food manufacturing, oil and hotel sectors have threatened to withhold pay rises and cost of living increases. But it was in construction that industrial relations were most turbulent. The failure to renew a sectoral collective agreement and the reneging on deals on the cost of living and sub-contracting meant that 35,000 workers went on strike in February. As well as calling on employers to correct these abuses the uions want the government to mediate and to operate public procurement so as to make sure that foreign workers are treated on equal terms amd cannot undercut Cypriots on wages and qualifications.
AS THE GERMAN ECONOMY REMAINS BUOYANT trade unions have decided that it’s time to cash in on the gains that have been made during their period of ‘restraint’. With unemployment at its lowest level since reunification in 1990 the Ver.di services union have secured a 6.3% wage increase over two years for two million public sector workers and IG Metall have launched a bid for 6.5% for engineers in reply to the employers’ offer of 3%. Both have used warning strikes and demonstrations in pursuit of their claims. Meanwhile temporary agency workers have been included in the national minimum wage for the first time due to the extension of the Posted Workers Act to their sector. Previously resisted by the smaller CGB union federation (see issue 44) the measure is designed to ensure equality of treatment of foreign workers and has been welcomed by the main DGB as an overdue step towards combating downward pessure on pay from foreign agencies.
FANCY WORKING FOR HALF AN HOUR MORE every day without pay? Neither did workers in Portugal when their government thought it would be a good idea to appease the famous ‘troika’ of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. They had demanded a cut in employers’ social security contributions when the country was lent money to tide it over the financial crisis and, faced with opposition to this, Portuguese ministers thought that an increase in work hours would perform much the same function. Despite a one-day general strike by the CGTP and UGT federations a bill was put before parliament without consultation. Having only achieved a 40-hour week in 1996 the unions were in no mood to donate over 300 million hours of free work every year and held further demonstrations until the government agreed to withdraw the bill and return to the negotiating table.

Compromise on energy law ‘waters down’ directive

AGREEMENT HAS FINALLY BEEN REACHED between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on a new EU Energy Efficiency directive but campaigners, and even some of the MEPs who signed off on the deal, have described it as falling short of what is necessary for Europe  to meet its commitment to reduce energy consumption by 20% by 2020. For once the blame does not seem to rest with employers as former Green MEP Monica Frassoni thanked ‘the efforts of progressive businesses to demonstrate the huge benefits of energy efficiency using existing technologies’. Instead Member States including the U.K. bore the brunt of criticism:  ‘A more positive attitude from the UK government would have meant we could have a directive fit for purpose’ according to Labour MEP group leader Glenis Willmott. However, although the proposed law is only likely to bring about a 15% reduction, energy spokesperson Peter Skinner MEP believed that ‘this is better than not having a new directive, since our current legislation would have brought just a nine per cent saving’.
European trade unions, in the shape of the ETUC, emphasised the missed opportunity to increase employment, even by passing the original ‘very conservative’ Commission proposal. Confederal secretary Judith Kirton-Darling stated ‘national governments are watering down those limited demands, rather than seeing energy efficiency as a means of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe’.  She pointed to the German ‘Alliance for Employment and the Environment’ which has renovated 2.4 milllion apartments, saving 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and creating 340,000 jobs in one year. ‘We firmly believe that this and other good practice examples provide strong models for other countries and in other sectors’, she continued.
Climate campaigners were even more scathing: ‘A seemingly win-win directive to reduce fuel bills, cut oil and gas imports and carbon emissions has been significantly watered down by some short-sighted member states’ according to Friends of the Earth while Climate Action Europe thought that the proposal was ‘riddled with loopholes, a mere token gesture’.




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