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February 1997 saw a major strike in Spain's road transport sector. The
dispute was well supported, mainly in the north of the country, but was
called off without winning many concessions from the Government.
It is expected that the fate of the Forges de Clabecq steelworks will be
sealed on 15 June 1997. However, whatever the outcome of the recovery
operation by the Swiss-Italian industrial concern, Duferco, something will
have changed in this Belgian enterprise located some 15 miles from Brussels
in the province of Brabant. Beyond the event in itself - the closure of a
firm leading to the loss of 1,800 jobs - which has not itself been
exceptional over the last few months in Belgium, it is the style of activity
undertaken by the Forges de Clabecq union delegation  that has revealed a
new union climate.
In a recent press interview, Padraig Flynn, the European commissioner
responsible for industrial relations and social affairs, expressed his unease
at press reports that the social partners' negotiations on part-time work
were heading for collapse, and stated that he remained hopeful of a positive
outcome. Senior trade union negotiator and deputy general secretary of the
European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Jean Lapeyre, also stated that he
remained convinced that the negotiations could succeed. He stressed, however,
that if part-time work was to be made more attractive and acceptable for
workers, assurance of "decent social protection" had to be offered.
Late in 1996, Parliament passed legislation providing for changes in the
Employment Security Act that aroused the anger of the trade unions. Although
most of the new provisions apply from 1 January 1997, the most controversial
modification, in Section 2 of the Act, will not come into force until 1 July.
This will give trade unions and employers more time to adapt to the new rule
in the legislation which deals with the level of central bargaining and
This action, which came as a complete surprise to the 3,100 employees, is
part of the French-owned motor manufacturer's "new industrial strategy" of
concentrating production to cut its financial losses. Michel de Virville,
managing director of Renault, announced the closure adding that:
The Employment and Labour Market Committee (ELC), established by a Council
Decision on 20 December 1996, held its inaugural meeting in Brussels on 29
January 1997. The ELC was created in response to a request by the European
Council for the setting up of a stable structure to support the work of the
Labour and Social Affairs Council in employment-related matters. This area
has taken on a new dimension in the context of the" European employment
strategy" outlined at the European Council in Essen in December 1994. The ELC
is expected to improve the balance between employment, on the one hand, and
economic and monetary issues, on the other hand, in the European debate. The
new Committee will fulfil a similar role to that of the Economic Policy
Committee which provides advice to the Economics and Financial Affairs
On 19 February, the Government presented a bill to Parliament, proposing
modifications in the legislation concerning the granting of workers' claims
in case of their employer's insolvency. There is no doubt that it will be
passed by Parliament. This will then be the second time the legislation has
been modified in order to comply with EU Council Directive 80/987/EEC on this
The executive committee (sekretariatet) of the Norwegian Confederation of
Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, or LO), the largest union
confederation in Norway, has recommended a programme of action containing a
set of policy principles for the period 1997-2001. The programme encompasses
a wide variety of social and economic issues and is to be adopted at the
confederation's congress on 10-16 May 1997 after a plenary debate.
In January 1997, the European Commission adopted a report on the Promotion of
Participation by Employed Persons in Profits and Enterprise Results,
including equity participation (PEPPER II). The report suggests that
profit-sharing schemes lead to higher productivity, whatever method, model
specification and data are used. The macroeconomic situation was found to
have little effect on government or social partner support for such schemes,
but recent debates relating to enhancing productivity and wage flexibility
are stimulating discussions on proposals. However, in most member states,
trade unions can be expected to oppose the use of financial participation
schemes to promote wage flexibility.
On 6 February 1997, theSwedish Paper Workers' Union and the Employers'
Federation of Swedish Forest Industries told the conciliators Lars-Gunnar
Albåge and Rune Larson that they accepted their proposal for a national
collective agreement on wages for 1997. There had been two stumbling blocks
in the negotiations: the trade union's claim for a reduction of annual
working time by 25 hours; and the employers' insistence on an agreement that
would run for at least two years. The outcome is an agreement on wages only,
that runs for one year, backdated to 1 January 1997.