European chemical sector social partners sign sustainability accord

In September 2011, European social partners in the chemical sector adopted a declaration aimed at strengthening the European chemical industry and finding ways for this sector to address issues such as food shortages, emissions, and the need to save energy and protect the environment. The agreement on framework conditions for a sustainable chemical industry is based on recommendations of the High Level Group on the competitiveness of the chemicals industry, issued in 2009.

Background

On 6 September 2011, social partners in the European chemical sector signed a voluntary agreement that explores ways of making the chemical industry more sustainable. The agreement looks as ways in which the sector can improve processes to help find solutions for global problems such as energy and water consumption, reduction of emissions and production of enough food, while protecting natural resources, biodiversity and the environment.

The declaration was adopted by the European Chemical Employers Group (ECEG), the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Worker’s Federation (EMCEF) and the European Industry Council (CEFIC). The Framework conditions for a sustainable chemical industry in Europe (362Kb PDF) document demonstrates the vitality of social dialogue within the sector.

This dialogue has been helped by the work of a social dialogue committee, set up in December 2004 (EU0411202N), and a recent framework agreement on training and job competences of 15 April 2011, the aim of which was to ensure conformity of competences in the EU chemicals sector (EU1105011I).

Social partners in the chemicals sector formalised their dialogue when the European Commission began to prepare the REACH regulations, governing the protection of human health and the environment from chemical risks, as employers and unions had fears about their impact on business and employment levels. A similar aim motivated the social partners to launch this new voluntary agreement.

Implementing High Level Group recommendations

In 2009, the High Level Group (HLG) on the Competitiveness of the European Chemicals Industry issued 39 recommendations to support the sector’s competitiveness.

The Commission underlined the importance of following up these recommendations in 2010, in its Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative ‘An Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era’. This paper also stressed the potential contribution of the chemicals industry to providing solutions to critical societal challenges.

In 2011, the Commission issued a report on the implementation of the HLG recommendations (245Kb PDF) that gives an overview of actions undertaken by all relevant stakeholders.

Now, with their new voluntary agreement, the chemical sector social partners want to put pressure on European policy makers to implement all of the recommendations of the HLG. ECEG President Jean Pelin told EIRO:

In a way, it is a kind of lobbying. We are asking for better coherence between the different regulations at European level and at national level, and their simplification.

Promoting a sustainable chemical industry

In their September 2011 agreement, the social partners stress that the chemical industry ‘plays an important role in meeting the challenges of the future as a major enabler of economic, environmental and social progress by contributing to the sustainable development objectives as defined in the Europe 2020 strategy’. Jean Pelin added that ‘a sustainable chemical industry is vital to the sustainability of Europe’.

The declaration has three parts, environmental, social and economic, based on the recommendations of the HLG.

Preconditions for the success of the chemical industry

In the agreement, the social partners state that:

…high standards of health and safety at the workplace, social responsibility, efficient and high-level education and vocational training, as well as quality employment, are priorities and responsibilities shared by the chemical industry in cooperation with workers’ organisations.

They state that the industry wants to maintain and improve competitiveness at global level and underline the fact that a highly skilled, motivated workforce and safe and decent working conditions are preconditions for the success of a knowledge-based industry such as the chemical sector.

The social partners declare their confidence that if Europe can implement an effective, holistic and integrated industrial policy, then the region’s chemical industry can remain a world leader and continue to play its role as an enabler of sustainability. Furthermore, they believe that this is the precondition for maintaining a high level of quality employment, and not only in the chemical sector.

They call on national and European decision makers to implement the recommendations of the HLG on the competitiveness of the chemicals industry, with a particular emphasis on:

  • education and professional training, especially in the fields of natural sciences, mathematics, ICT and technology;
  • incentives for R&D and support for innovation initiatives;
  • partnership in energy, climate change and resource efficiency policies;
  • efficient and workable regulation, on the basis that consistency and simplification will reduce costs and bureaucracy;
  • industrial policy that promotes and safeguards a competitive manufacturing industry in Europe.

Next steps

The social partners have said that they want to go further, and that their next goal is to run a feasibility study to assess whether their industry needs a European Sector Skills Council. They also want to achieve a higher degree of coordination between the social dialogue of the chemical industry at EU level and the sectoral social dialogues taking place at national level.

Commentary

With this agreement, the social partners are trying to promote and reinforce the European chemical industry with the aim of developing the industry and raising its employment levels across the EU. European policymakers need to take these preoccupations into account, particularly given the trend of industrial employment being moved to low-cost or less regulated countries.

Frédéric Turlan, HERA

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