Social partners react to Commission consultation on restructuring

The European-level social partners have issued their first reactions to the European Commission's January 2002 consultation on industrial restructuring. UNICE sees no need for further regulation of this issue at Community level, although it would be willing to enter into exchanges of experience, while ETUC has invited UNICE and CEEP to enter into substantive discussions.

The European Commission issued a first-stage consultation document to the EU-level social partners in January 2002 on the issue of how to anticipate and manage the social effects of corporate restructuring (EU0201235F). The Commission would like to see European agreements on this issue at cross-industry or sectoral level. By early April, reactions had been published by the Union of Industrial and Employer's Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

UNICE issued a statement on 8 March 2002, in which it stated that European companies share the Commission's analysis that economic and social renewal is at the heart of the economic and employment strategy set out at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 (EU0004241F). UNICE also stated that it welcomes the Commission's acknowledgement that there is no link between differences in national systems governing corporate restructuring and company decisions to restructure operations in certain countries in preference to others. It stressed that any action taken in the area of the regulation of corporate restructuring at EU level 'must fully reflect this analysis'.

UNICE goes on to state that a substantial legal framework providing for workers' rights in the event restructuring already exists at EU level, in the form of instruments such as the Directives on European Works Councils (94/45/EC), collective redundancies (98/59/EC), transfers of undertakings (2001/23/EC) and national-level information and consultation (2002/14/EC), along with the European Company Statute (EU0110203N). Philippe de Buck, the UNICE secretary general, argued that 'it is essential to avoid additional regulatory constraints being imposed on businesses.'

He went on to argue that practical measures to alleviate the negative effects of corporate restructuring can be decided only at local level and are often determined by agreements between social partners in individual Member States at various levels. He concluded by stating that, although European employers do not see the need to develop new EU principles on restructuring, 'there could, however, be value in organising exchanges of experience on companies' practices for anticipating and managing change in order to promote a positive attitude to change across Europe,' and that UNICE would be willing to discuss restructuring in the social dialogue on this basis.

ETUC issued a statement on 12 March 2002, in which it welcomed the Commission's consultation. It stressed ETUC's belief that Community-level action in the area of restructuring is 'urgently required' in the light of the high number of corporate restructurings taking place. It goes on to say that a range of Community instruments – both legislative and/or contractual – are needed 'in order to ensure that decisions regarding corporate restructuring are based on long-term perspectives and managed in a socially acceptable manner'. ETUC states further that although dialogue between the social partners on the development of best practice is important and welcome, it is not enough and the Commission and the Council should not give this responsibility to the social partners alone.

ETUC believes that workers should be involved in the process of change on an ongoing basis and that restructuring should take place according to the principle of the 'lowest social cost possible'. ETUC has also drawn up a position paper in which it sets out a number of detailed proposals for Community action in areas such as rights to information and consultation and ongoing research and analysis on the extent and impact of corporate restructuring, by sector, country and region. ETUC is particularly in favour of creating an obligation on companies to draw up an annual report on changes affecting employment and working conditions. ETUC ends its statement by proposing to UNICE and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) to enter into substantive discussions over a three-month period on 'elements for negotiation' and on the possible contribution of the social partners in the areas of anticipating and managing restructuring. It also calls on the sectoral social dialogue committees to address these issues.

At the time of writing, CEEP had not as yet issued any public statement on the Commission's consultation.

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