European Metalworkers' Federation holds fourth European collective bargaining conference
At its fourth collective bargaining conference, held in June 2001, the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) discussed a number of issues related to European collective bargaining. It reviewed the progress of its 1998 strategy aimed at a European coordination of bargaining, debated a draft training charter and discussed a draft position paper on a future European industrial relations system.
On 20-21 June 2001, the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) held its fourth European collective bargaining conference in Oslo. EMF is the second-largest European industry federation affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and represents about 6 million workers in 56 affiliated unions in 25 European countries. Under the slogan New horizons for collective bargaining in Europe, around 130 trade union delegates from 17 European countries - including many of the presidents of the national metalworkers' unions - came together in Oslo to evaluate EMF's attempts to create closer coordination of collective bargaining at European level and to discuss EMF's future bargaining policy. There were three main topics on the agenda:
- evaluation of the EMF European coordination rule for collective bargaining;
- establishment of an EMF training charter; and
- introduction of a European industrial relations system.
Evaluation of the EMF European coordination rule
Content of the EMF European coordination rule
Against the background of the advent of EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), EMF was the first European industry federation to develop a more comprehensive concept for European-level coordination of national collective bargaining. Originally mooted at the third EMF collective bargaining conference in December 1998, and later confirmed by the EMF executive committee and EMF congress in 1999, EMF adopted a 'European coordination rule' which contains a number of guiding principles for national bargaining in order to prevent downward competition over wages and working conditions (DE9812283F). The EMF concept was laid down in a political resolution entitled 'Collective bargaining with the euro' which states that:
The key point of reference and criterion for trade union wage policy in all countries must be to offset the rate of inflation and to ensure that workers' incomes retain a balanced participation in productivity gains. The commitment to safeguard purchasing power and to reach a balanced participation in productivity gains is the new European coordination rule for coordinated collective bargaining in the metal sector all over Europe. Only once this objective has been achieved throughout Europe in accordance with the relevant applicable conditions can wage dumping be eliminated and the continued redistribution of income to the detriment of workers be stopped.
However, in order to respect the different national circumstances in Europe, the EMF concept also states that:
the unions keep their full autonomy and take full responsibility in respect of how they use this distribution space for the improvement of wages and measures geared towards fostering employment such as reduction of working time and training, for a new organisation of work or special benefits as for example early retirement measures or equal treatment rules. This is their choice and their responsibility - facing actual needs.
After EMF became the pioneer in setting up a strategy for the 'Europeanisation' of collective bargaining, almost all other European industry federations as well as ETUC (EU0101291N) have since followed a similar approach and developed their own framework guidelines on collective bargaining coordination (TN9907201S).
First report on the European coordination rule in practice
Two and a half years after the adoption of the European coordination rule, EMF drew up a first evaluation of its practical impact on national collective bargaining at its fourth collective bargaining conference in June 2001. EMF presented the delegates with a special 'Report on the European coordination rule' which gives both an evaluation of the recent collective bargaining rounds in metalworking in the various European countries as well as a political evaluation of the practical meaning of the coordination rule.
The recent metalworking bargaining rounds were evaluated on the basis of data provided by the 2000/1 annual report of the EMF European Collective Bargaining Information Network (EUCOB@). Eucob@ was set up in November 1999 as a network of 'responsible correspondents' from each EMF-affiliated trade union, who are responsible for submitting regular information on recently-concluded collective agreements and ongoing bargaining situations. The exchange of information within Eucob@ has so far been organised via e-mail and coordinated by a special project manager based at the EMF secretariat in Brussels. Using the information provided by the national EMF correspondents, Eucob@ produces once a year a more structured report on collective bargaining developments in European metalworking.
In evaluating the results of the recent bargaining rounds in the light of the European coordination rule, EMF is confronted with various statistical and methodological problems. First of all, there is the problem of the 'correct' figures to be used for the evaluation. The European coordination rule refers, for example, to inflation and productivity, but there is no precise definition of either term. There is also the problem of whether national or European statistics should be used. Moreover, the European coordination rule is not only about wages or working time but also about more 'qualitative' elements such as training, participation or new forms of work organisation, which are difficult to measure in monetary terms. Finally, there is also a problem of how to calculate the bargaining results achieved at the different bargaining levels and how to fix a national bargaining outcome in countries with more decentralised bargaining systems.
Since there is no easy solution to all these methodological problems, EMF has taken a rather pragmatic approach. It generally makes two calculations, one based on European figures provided by Eurostat and another based on national figures reported by the national EMF affiliates. For the moment, the latter is regarded as most important, since it reflects the way in which national metalworkers' unions calculate their bargaining results. For the evaluation of the European coordination rule, EMF therefore primarily uses the national figures in order to compare the sum of the inflation rate plus labour productivity growth, with the so-called 'value of the whole agreement' (VOWA) - which is the pay increase plus a value allocated to other collectively agreed elements, as estimated by the national EMF affiliates.
On the basis of this calculation method, EMF came to the conclusion that in 1999, the VOWA was in line with the coordination rule in nine European countries, while it fell below this guideline in four countries - see table 1 below. In 2000, the picture deteriorated slightly, with the VOWA matching the coordination rule in only five countries, and failing to do so in seven countries (Portugal and Spain appear in the 1999 comparison but not the 2000 figures, while France appears in the 2000 comparison but not the 1999 figures).
Table 1. Bargaining outcomes in metalworking, compared with EMF coordination rule, 1999-2000
|Year||VOWA* in line with coordination rule||VOWA* below coordination rule|
|1999||Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, UK||Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain|
|2000||Belgium, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden||Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, UK,|
* VOWA = 'value of the whole agreement' (see main text for details).
Source: 'Report on the European coordination rule', EMF, presented at the EMF collective bargaining conference, Oslo, 20-21 June 2001.
The EMF report emphasised that the recent collective agreements in European metalworking were fully in line with the European Central Bank's definition of non-inflationary pay developments (TN0007402S) while in some larger European countries (for example, Italy or Germany) pay developments had even had a deflationary impact.
Political evaluation of the European coordination rule
There is a widespread agreement within EMF that the European coordination rule should not be reduced to a mathematical formula but should be seen as a political strategy to intensify cross-border cooperation between EMF affiliates and to reject the notion of a competition-oriented collective bargaining policy. However, EMF openly concedes that the European coordination rule has not played a major role in national bargaining so far. The latter point has been confirmed by a recent international study coordinated by the Institute for Economic and Social Research (Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut, WSI) within the Hans-BÃ¶ckler Foundation on recent collective bargaining developments in European metalworking (Collective bargaining under the euro experiences from the European metal industry, Thorsten Schulten and Reinhard Bispinck (eds), European Trade Union Institute, Brussels 2001).
Nevertheless, EMF takes a relatively positive view on the impact of the European coordination rule, since it has been successful in establishing 'a moral claim, that no negotiations are a national issue alone, but that all have implications beyond national borders, and consequently that they are a shared responsibility'. Therefore, the most important effect of the European coordination rule is seen to be that it has helped to strengthen cross-border union cooperation through, for example:
- the establishment of interregional cross-border collective bargaining networks (for example between the metalworkers' unions in Belgium, the Netherlands and North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany) (DE9904298F);
- the exchange of trade union observers during collective bargaining rounds;
- sending warnings to employers that unions would refuse to undertake work related to a strike in another country; and
- establishing Eucob@.
Overall, EMF believes that through the European coordination rule 'substantial progress has been made in achieving the real political objective: a greater willingness to use all the tools of the European metalworkers' trade unions to achieve strong coordinated bargaining results.'
Future of the European coordination rule
In his speech at the fourth collective bargaining conference, the general secretary of EMF, Reinhard Kuhlmann, raised three demands for a further development of EMF's policy regarding the European coordination rule:
- EMF affiliates should make more explicit reference to the EMF coordination rule when establishing their claims for collective bargaining;
- the EMF collective bargaining committee should be able to discuss the affiliated unions' claims, rather than only the results of collective bargaining; and
- in the event of national affiliates not reaching the goals of the European coordination rule, there should be an open discussion on the reasons within the EMF collective bargaining committee.
The vice-general secretary of EMF, Bart Samyn, further emphasised the need to improve the awareness of EMF positions more broadly within its affiliates. He also pointed out that in countries with more decentralised collective bargaining systems, the coordination rule could also be used as an instrument for a stronger coordination at national level.
Finally, EMF stressed the need to put the European coordination rule much more in the context of a consistent European macroeconomic policy which is able to promote jobs and growth in Europe. The success of European coordination of collective bargaining depends not only on the unions' policy alone but also the ability to obtain increased coordination of wage, fiscal and monetary policy, whereby the European trade unions have 'to be capable of a qualified dialogue with the economic structures, including the European Central Bank'.
EMF European training charter
EMF also put forward a draft training charter for consideration at the conference. By way of background information, the draft charter states that, while the demand for skilled staff is increasing in Europe, demand for staff without vocational training or higher education is likely to fall significantly over the coming 10 years. It therefore states that 'to develop industry and for companies to be competitive on the world market, further education and training of employees is vital.' EMF has already carried out work in this area, notably in the form of a position paper on competence development and lifelong learning, which demands the right to - and highlights the individual responsibility for - competence development for everyone. Further, EMF notes that there have been a number of national initiatives in the form of national and sectoral collective agreements on vocational training. These usually take the form of framework accords within which company-level agreements may then be concluded. A recent example of a regional sectoral-level agreement on training is the June 2001 accord in the Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg metalworking region in Germany (DE0107233N).
In general, however, the draft charter notes that company-level agreements rarely cover all those employed in a company, often tending to focus specifically on the training needs of the company, thus regarding broader training and education as either an individual or a state responsibility. EMF states that its affiliated unions regard skills development, vocational training and on-the-job training within the framework of lifelong learning as the shared responsibility of the employer and employee.
Special groups of workers
Noting that workers with higher levels of education tend to receive relatively more training, while those with low levels of education receive relatively little, the draft EMF training charter states that special attention should be given to specific groups of workers perceived as vulnerable and at risk from structural change. These are as follows:
- women, who often work in jobs with lower training, education and experience requirements;
- lone parents, who often need special arrangements in order to be able to participate in training;
- part-time workers, who might find it difficult to participate in training;
- older workers, who often have outdated skills. It should be ensured that there is no age discrimination regarding access to training;
- immigrants, who often work in jobs requiring low skills levels and receive little training;
- trade union representatives, who need to maintain and update their skills and competencies during their term of office; and
- workers on fixed-term contracts and temporary agency workers, who often do not have access to training.
Taking into account all the above points, the draft charter sets out nine general principles and action points aimed at improving access to training for all:
- there should be an established individual right to appropriate vocational training for every employee;
- while the way in which this is to be achieved is left open, one solution could be a guaranteed minimum of five days of vocational training per year;
- an annual plan for vocational training, based on the worker's needs and the company's goals, should be drawn up between each employee and each company. This plan should be approved by the local trade union representation or the company's works council. The plan should include the timing, quality and a minimum number of days for the training;
- discussions and decisions about training activities and programmes should be discussed by local trade union representatives at company level;
- employees and local trade union representatives (or the works council) should be given continuous information about companies' future needs for skilled and training workers, in addition to information on training schemes;
- when they have completed a training course, employees should receive a document confirming their participation;
- vocational training must be free for employees;
- all employees should have access to vocational training during normal working hours; and
- where that is not possible, training provided outside of normal working hours should be within the framework of a collective agreement which includes provisions relating to compensatory time off.
The conference debated the issue, with all delegates agreeing that the draft charter was a significant step in the right direction and a compromise document which provides the starting point for a discussion. Many delegates made the point that, as well as a right and duty to train, employees must be motivated to take up training. This was mentioned by the Finnish, German and Danish delegations, the latter stating that it was often difficult to motivate employees to read manuals in foreign languages.
The German delegation also stated that the standards set out in the charter should be seen as a minimum rather than a maximum. The Italian delegation commented that there is a need to build flexibility into the goals of training programmes and a real need for the involvement of employee representatives in order to prevent the programmes being shaped by employers.
The conference agreed that the EMF executive would continue work on this theme in November 2001.
European industrial relations system
The conference examined a draft position paper on a European industrial relations system. The paper examines the structures already in place in the EU, including the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. However, these fundamental rights have not been given Treaty basis, following a decision taken at the Nice European Council meeting in December 2000 (EU0012288F) to give the Charter the status of a solemn declaration only. Further, the paper states that there is a social dialogue structure at EU level, in addition to a European civil court system which has competence in social and collective bargaining principles.
The position paper states that trade unions and the social partners more widely should be actively involved in setting up a dialogue and a bargaining structure at all levels, including the European level, and that there should be further coordination of collective bargaining policies, in addition to the promotion of social dialogue at sectoral level. It stresses that a European system of industrial relations should not be perceived as a threat to national systems. Rather, it should emphasise the role of national practice, alongside the European dimension. However, it is also stated that EMF cannot set up such a system alone, but must act in conjunction with employers' organisations at both sectoral and intersectoral level, in addition to the European Commission, at least partly in the context of ETUC.
Structure of a European industrial relations system
The position paper calls for the fundamental rights set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to be given Treaty basis as quickly as possible. It argues that EMF, its affiliates, the other European industry federations and ETUC should lobby the European Commission and Member States in order to put this issue back onto the agenda of the Intergovernental Conference. It also specifically states that the right to strike should be included in the European Treaties.
The paper states that the current structure of the European social dialogue could be maintained, with some modifications such as the implementation by Council Directive of social partner agreements at the sole request of the social partners without having to gain the approval of the Commission. Further, it states that there should be clear agreement within ETUC as to which European industry federation is representative in each sector, based on affiliated organisations and membership, and that the criteria for representativeness at European level should be more clearly defined.
Looking specifically at disputes, the position paper states that disputes related to the interpretation of European-level collective agreements should be mediated by the signatory parties. However, individuals and organisations should have a right to a legal appeal in the event of non-respect of an agreement and if mediation by the signatory parties does not resolve the dispute. It argues that disputes relating to collective agreements should be dealt with either by a special chamber of theEuropean Court of Justice or by a new and separate European labour court, which would have competence for European social legislation and collective bargaining only and could be composed of trade union and employer representatives and an official judge.
The paper also proposes that a proper hierarchy of collective agreements be established in order to aid the interpretation of agreements and clarify their legal grounds. The proposed hierarchy is set out in table 2 below.
Table 2. EMF's proposed hierarchy of collective agreements and law at European and national level
|European level||National level|
|European Union Directive||.|
|Intersectoral agreement with erga omnes effect (ie given general application by law)||.|
|Intersectoral agreement without erga omnes effect||.|
|Sector-level agreement with erga omnes effect||.|
|Sector-level agreement without erga omnes effect||.|
Outlining the content of this position paper, the EMF vice-general secretary, Bart Samyn, stressed the need for an independent tripartite labour court in Europe, which he feels is essential for the interpretation of collective agreements in a future European industrial relations system.
EMF is undertaking important work in the areas of collective bargaining coordination, vocational training and industrial relations. Its draft positions on both vocational training and European industrial relations will no doubt provide the foundations for future work in this area. Most specifically, EMF's suggestions for a tripartite European court to deal specifically with disputes arising from the interpretation of collective agreements is particularly interesting.
At this stage, however, it is EMF's work on the coordination of collective bargaining which is the most advanced. Its coordination rule has been in place for two and a half years and, as the evaluation report shows, while EMF readily admits that this has not made a concrete contribution in influencing the outcome of bargaining in all countries, it is nevertheless making an important political contribution. First, it is sending a clear signal that EMF affiliates across Europe are prepared to work together and coordinate their bargaining aims. Second, it has concretely increased cooperation between EMF affiliates in different countries, lending momentum to many fledgling arrangements. It has also served to create the Eucob@ network which monitors and exchanges information on collective bargaining in the different countries. Third, and most importantly for the future, it would appear to be providing a basis for any potential Europeanisation of collective bargaining in years to come. It should be remembered that this EMF strategy is as yet in its infancy and no doubt a review in five years' time will yield interesting results. (Andrea Broughton, IRS, and Thorsten Schulten, WSI)