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ISSUE 71 page 2

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Commission tries to kick-start social dialogue but unions question its commitment
 THE EUROPEAN UNION HAS, SINCE THE NINETEEN-EIGHTIES UNDER PRESIDENT Jacques Delors, built up one of the most advanced and systematically organised frameworks of social dialogue between trade unions and employers’ organisations. At the last count there were forty-three sectoral dialogue committees covering 75%  of EU workers (see issue 52). Agreements between the two sides of industry have led to new EU directives, such as on Part-Time Workers, and voluntary codes e.g. Stress which are implemented by national organisations. However since the financial crash of 2008 the process has ground to a halt. In a quarter of EU countries no non-legislative agreements have been implemented. As both employers and the EU authorities were drawn into the U.S.-style philosophy of seeing all regulation as ‘burdens-on–business’ there was little common ground with trade unions trying to maintain existing collective bargaining and other rights in the face of the infamous ‘troika’ and other ‘missions’ by the EU and IMF to liberalise and make flexible individual Member States’ labour markets.  Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president installed last year said in the European Parliament that he ‘would like to be a President of social dialogue’ and wants to re-invigorate the process.  Trade unions may be suspicious of his motives as he has quoted

Juncker, J. & Delors, J.

Delors (R.) & Juncker: the founder of EU social dialogue talks with his successor

Schulz, M.

strengthened ‘EU economic governance’and ‘national reform programmes’ as topics which are in need of union co-operation. These headings often cover the very measures that have weakened workers’ rights and union influence in countries such as Greece. Nonetheless there was substantial trade union representation among the 400 delegates at a recent high-level conference on European Social Dialogue held in Brussels. Education seemed to be the area where the greatest consensus emerged. The European federation ETUCE, currently headed by UK teachers’ union leader Christine Blower, concluded that Commissioners Dombrovskis and Thyssen, who are leading the renewed social dialogue process, gave the impression that it is a ‘pre-requisite for a successful political, economic and social development of the European Union’ although it remained to be seen if this was just ‘lip-service’. Commission support for social dialogue at the national level does seem to be growing but what difference this will make in countries like the U.K. where there is no formal system for talks between government, employers and unions is doubtful. ‘If we want a social market economy in Europe, we need a European - I repeat - a European social dialogue’ insisted European Parliament president Martin Schulz.

Martin Schulz speaks at the high-level conference



EU public sector employment declines, workforce ages

A RECENT REPORT FROM EUROFOUND, the EU’s labour research agency, has documented the decline in public sector employment across Europe. Immediately following the financial crash of 2008 the sector continued to expand, providing a counterweight to the loss of jobs in private companies. From 2010 however spiralling government debt, as a consequence of bailing out bad banks, led to the largest restructuring for many decades.  Public administration, that is leaving out health and education, has lost 800,000 posts net since 2008 and, as this area was male-dominated, the public workforce overall has become more female. More than one-third of public service workers in Europe is now aged over 50, and the proportion of older workers has increased by more than five percentage points since 2008.  Pay reductions and freezes have become common in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, the U.K. and the Baltic countries while Germany and the Nordics have maintained both employment and salary levels. Although it seems that jobs are being created again in health and education there is evidence that many of these  are in the private sector.
The report draws attention to the hasty nature of many of the lay-offs, the lack of consultation with the social partners and the loss of skilled personnel, many of whom left voluntarily. Some of them have faced problems in marketing their public qualifications to private employers while those left behind have experienced heightened levels of psycho-social risk and reduced levels of motivation. Eurofound recommends that examples such as the consultation in Ireland and job security councils in Sweden should be copied by other countries as well as increasing the use of information technology to increase efficiency.

Bargaining round-up

THERE ARE MANY COUNTRIES IN EUROPE whose framework of industrial relations includes labour agreements which cover whole sectors of the economy rather that the British system based on negotiations within individual companies. But trade unions OZ KOVO and IOZ in Slovakia want to extend this practice so that even employers who never signed up to their sectoral agreement are bound by its provisions when it is extended. Previous right-wing governments have prevented this but the Ministry of Labour under the current, left-wing administration has approved five extensions which will apply to industries such as construction and transport. The unions believe that these deals will even out wages and conditions between companies and regions. Agreements can also lay down rules on topics which are of concern in that sector, for instance temps whose use has been limited in electrical engineering. In all, over 100,000 workers should benefit from the extensions at a cost to employers of €11.4 million per year.
MALTESE TRADE UNIONS HAVE LEAPED ANOTHER hurdle in their race to get members of the armed forces and police, and civil defence and prison staff signed up. Disappointed with a measure enacted three years ago (see issue 58) that allowed just the Malta Police Association to become a ‘house’ union, the largest federation, the General Workers’ Union (GWU), has been pressing the government to go further so that it can affiliate all the groups of workers in these sectors. A new law, which came into force in March, gives them the right to join ‘proper’ unions though not to strike. By the end of the month the new Police Officers Union, Armed Forces Union and the Correctional Officers Union had 800 members between them and had formally signed the affiliation agreement with the GWU. GWU general secretary Tony Zarb described the event as ‘historic’ and said that the next step would be for these three unions to seek affiliation with European and International organisations.
IRISH WORKERS ARE FINALLY IN LINE FOR A pay rise, at least if they are employed by banks.  After six years without one, 12,000 employees at the Bank of Ireland are to receive a 2% increase this year with a further 1.75% backdated to July 2014. They also got a lump sum of 5% of annual salary in December. The bank officials’ union, IBOA, said that this should be a precedent for other financial institutions ‘which are now returning to profitability’. Ulster Bank, who are to use performance ratings to pay rises of up to 8%, and Irish Life, where a dispute went to the Labour Court to decide a 2% increase, are two other companies who are finally emerging from the long freeze on pay.


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