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|EVERY FIVE YEARS THE EUROPEAN TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION (ETUC) holds its congress to decide policies and priorities. In October delegates gathered in Paris to set these for the period 2015-2019. Faced with the continued slump in the European economy and the increasing drift to more neo-liberal policies by the EU Commission the ETUC stressed the need for investment to achieve full employment, implying an end to austerity. This forms the first ‘pillar’ of their priorities, ‘A strong economy that serves the people’, the others being ‘Stronger unions for democratic values and democracy at work’, to be realised by social dialogue and collective bargaining, and ‘A core of ambitious social standards’ which includes an end to social dumping, deregulation and discrimination. In its ‘Paris Manifesto’ the confederation sets a target of 2% of GDP per year to be spent on infrastructure, sustainable energy systems, research, education, health care and social services. It highlights the need for a general pay rise and affirms negotiations between social partners as the best way to achieve this. It therefore calls on the European Commission to strengthen collective bargaining systems especially in smaller companies (SMEs). The ETUC wants to see further legislation to initiate a new ambitious social agenda to help workers ‘achieve better living and working conditions’. They particularly draw attention to gender equality and the need to enforce the ‘right to equal pay for work of equal value’. The deregulation agenda must end, including the REFIT initiative, and an ‘EU Social Progress Protocol, annexed to the EU Treaties’, they say.||
ETUC delegates vote at the Paris congress
Many of the points in the manifesto require the co-operation of the EU authorities, particularly the European Commission, but it is by no means certain that even the general direction of their policy matches that of the trade unions. Although there has been some attempt to restart social dialogue (see issue 71) new measures such as the proposed National Competitiveness Boards could be counter-productive for unions. Together with a European Fiscal Board which will monitor Member States’ budgets and debt, the boards have already been criticised by the ETUC as focusing too much on wages and labour costs while ignoring such factors as education, infrastructure, research etc. According to Deputy General Secretary Veronica Nilsson ‘There is a stronger case to set up “Social Progress Boards” to make recommendations on tackling unemployment, poverty and inequality. My fear is that the long-term aim is to influence wage settlements more strongly, and that’s a no-no for trade unions’.
The congress also elected leading British trade unionist and equality campaigner Gloria Mills as the President of the Women’s Committee, the first black woman to hold the post.
living and working conditions’. They particularly draw attention to gender equality and the need to enforce the ‘right to equal pay for work of equal value’. The deregulation agenda must end, including the REFIT initiative, and an ‘EU Social Progress Protocol, annexed to the EU Treaties’, they say.
UNIONS IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR IN DENMARK have secured a pay rise for their members despite having to take account of differentials with private salary rates. The recent history of negotiation includes a substantial increase in 2009, just as the crash was hitting the private sector, followed by minimal rises in 2011 and 2013. In Denmark a mechanism exists to keep the progress of public and private pay in step by automatic increments or deductions of public remuneration according to which sector is doing best. However, as part of the new deal agreed between the Ministry of Finance and the Danish Central Federation of State Employees’ Organisations (CFU), this calculation will not take place in 2015 resulting in an expected increase of 4.45% over the next three years. After 2018 the intention is to level out pay between the two sectors and this may result in a freeze if pubic employees have zoomed ahead of their private equivalents.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES IN IRELAND ARE ALSO IN for a pay rise but this takes the form of a restoration of previous cuts. An emergency public service pension levy, introduced as a result of the crisis in 2009, and an actual pay reduction in 2010 resulted in substantially lower earnings for public servants. Now the proposed Lansdowne Road Agreement will abolish the levy for those earning less than €24,750 annually, rising to €28,750 in September next year. In addition there will be a January pay rise of 2.5% for those on less than €24,000 and 1% for those between €24,000 and €31,000. In September a further €1,000 will be awarded to all those earning below €65,000. Other improvements negotiated by public service unions include those to dispute resolution, including in the police, flexitime in the civil service and working hours of nurses and midwives. Unions making up the Public Services Committee will now ballot their members who are expected to approve the deal.
A THIRD EU MEMBER WHOSE WAGE LEVELS are finally rebounding from the long slump is Spain. The last two social partner agreements, in 2010 and 2012, resulted in wage freezes and negotiations for the period 2015-2017 were delayed as employers tried to insist on continued ‘moderation’. However the CC.OO and UGT trade unions finally persuaded them that the improvement in the economy warranted a 1% increase in 2015 going up to 1.5% in 2016. From 2017 any rise will be dependent on economic growth but salaries will be inflation-proof with an automatic review if it rises to 2.5% or more. Although all this can be seen as good news for Spanish workers the national agreement is only a recommendation and employers reserve the right to take the health of individual companies into account as well as productivity. improvements.