EPSU agrees framework for coordinated action

At its sixth general assembly, the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) agreed in April 2000 to put into place a framework for joint collective action, which it hopes could pave the way to a coordinated system of collective bargaining in Europe's public services.

The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) - which groups 180 trade unions across Europe representing 10 million public service workers - agreed a policy statement entitled Public service trade unions and collective bargaining in a European environment on 18 April 2000 at its sixth general assembly, held in Lisbon. The statement argues that, in the new context of factors such as EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), there is a need for cooperation, coordination and joint action in order to promote the interests of public service workers, and highlights the following areas for development:

  • an active European economic and employment policy;
  • a "social Europe" based on regulation and collective bargaining;
  • a coordinated collective bargaining policy;
  • social dialogue in the public services;
  • European Works Councils as part of a European industrial relations system;
  • social dialogue in Central and Eastern Europe; and
  • European trade union action and cooperation.

Coordinated bargaining policy

In terms of a coordinated collective bargaining policy for the European public sector, EPSU states that "the paramount goal of a coordinated bargaining policy is to guarantee workers a fair share of income, to promote employment and to improve living and working conditions", noting that its inspiration comes from: the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) congress resolution for a "European system of industrial relations", approved in June 1999 in Helsinki (EU9907182F); the so-called "Doorn initiative" of September 1998, calling for closer transnational coordination of collective bargaining by trade unions in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg (DE9810278F); and the productivity-oriented collective bargaining policy adopted by the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) in 1998 (DE9812283F).

EPSU believes that over the past 10 years, a growing proportion of pay for public sector employees has been fragmented and/or transferred to local bargaining arrangements, a development which has increased pay inequalities in some countries. EPSU also believes that a European pay policy should be encouraged which is based on solidarity in order to counteract income inequalities. In particular, this policy should cover:

  • references for pay policy. Any joint public sector wage policy should guarantee compensation for inflation increases and that workers maintain "an appropriate share of productivity increases". Increases should be linked to average national labour productivity and public and private sector pay should develop in parallel in order to prevent the development of public-private sector pay differentials;
  • equal opportunities. EPSU's collective bargaining policy will include an equal opportunities dimension, bearing in mind that many women work in public services and that any lagging behind of public sector pay will therefore affect women disproportionately;
  • autonomy. EPSU notes that its affiliated unions have collective bargaining autonomy and have the right and responsibility to reflect the priorities of their membership when bargaining within this framework on issues such as pay, pensions, employment creation, reduction of working time, organisation of work, working conditions, training and leave;
  • qualitative issues. EPSU notes that issues such as working time, life-long learning and equality should be included in its affiliates' coordination of collective bargaining policies. It maintains that many public sector unions have been devising innovative policies in these areas and that EPSU should also aim to lead the field at European level; and
  • balanced development. EPSU stresses the balanced development of all regions and its commitment to set minimum standards and "progressively build its European agenda and achieve improvements for public service workers" in areas such as working time, equality, leave and vocational education and training.

Developing cooperation

Having set out its goals in terms of bargaining policy, the EPSU statement goes on to describe the process of achieving them. It believes that, in order to build up EPSU as the representative European trade union organisation in the public sector, the following measures are necessary:

  • the exchange and coordination of information on collective bargaining issues in order to build capacity for a coherent collective bargaining strategy. EPSU affiliates will therefore report to EPSU on all main developments, and in particular those in the areas of working time, pay and qualitative bargaining issues. An annual report will be drawn up and discussed and evaluated by the EPSU executive committee. In addition, the possibility of a regular collective bargaining bulletin will be looked into;
  • the EPSU general assembly will determine coordinated collective bargaining priorities. In between general assemblies, priorities will be determined by the EPSU standing committees, coordinated by the executive committee; and
  • bilateral and regional coordination between public service trade unions will be enhanced, in particular in those sectors where competition is forcing unions to accelerate their joint action or where sectoral social dialogue is being progressed. EPSU will also encourage pilot initiatives for collective bargaining coordination in specific areas.

In order to make transnational union action more effective, EPSU is urging public service unions to report strikes and any other industrial action to the EPSU secretariat in order to facilitate informing other unions. Thereafter, "where requested and relevant", forms of joint action, including support for strikes, will be considered by the EPSU executive committee. This should be developed particularly in the case of conflicts with transnational employers.

Assembly resolutions

The assembly adopted a number of resolutions, which reflect the debates in the two abovementioned areas of bargaining policy and the development of bargaining coordination, in addition to debates concerning issues such as an active employment policy, European Works Councils (EWC s) and social dialogue. The assembly therefore committed EPSU to:

  • argue in favour of the European coordination of macro-economic policies and a European employment strategy which recognises the jobs potential of the public services;
  • develop the social dialogue in all EPSU sectors and use coordinated pressure on employers where needed;
  • participate in ETUC bargaining and ETUC-led employment policies, based on the recognition of public service interests;
  • coordinate wage policy objectives, exchange information on collective bargaining and develop a European agenda at sectoral and "cross-sectoral" level;
  • ensure a gender perspective in European collective bargaining policies;
  • support existing EWCs and develop new ones, basing efforts on a sectoral approach;
  • develop and evaluate "EPSU procedures and mandates for social dialogue" on a regular basis;
  • intensify action to promote transnational trade union rights in the public sector;
  • consider appropriate forms of transnational trade union action to support the European sectoral social dialogue at all levels; and
  • intensify information and education regarding the implication for national bargaining of the euro single currency and general European integration.

Commentary

This recent initiative by EPSU is a significant step forward in terms of the coordination of trade union bargaining policy. Taken within the context of the ETUC's resolution on a European system of industrial relations and a range of other initiatives, such as the Doorn declaration, this shows that momentum regarding the increased coordination of trade union bargaining policy and actions is now building up. Although EPSU stresses that bargaining should continue at national level and that, within the framework set by EPSU, national affiliates have the freedom to pursue the interests and priorities of their members, it is clear that an over-arching framework for collective bargaining on a range of issues, including parameters for wage bargaining, is now in place in the public sector. Further, the seeds have now been sown for the development of coordinated transnational industrial action. The obligation on EPSU affiliates to report industrial action to the EPSU secretariat will enable the EPSU executive committee to initiate joint action and support actions, if it considers this to be appropriate. This could result in effective action being taken at pan-European level, particularly in the case of conflicts with transnational employers. (Andrea Broughton, IRS).

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