EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Global union network

A global union network is set up by an international trade union federation among its affiliate trade unions and put into operation within a multinational company. The main aims are to increase the circulation of information, improve communication between members and reinforce trade union presence within the corporation.

Global union networks are generally set up without any institutional support. To create such networks, international trade unions are dependent on the commitment and the resources of network participants at decentralised levels. However, once created, some networks receive financial support from the company, which may, for example, take on some of the network’s expenses. Networks mainly aim to exchange information among trade unionists, to set up an action plan to increase the strength of trade unions, prepare common actions that can lead to organised demonstrations or to express solidarity in case of redundancies. In 2016, for instance, tyre manufacturer Goodyear’s global trade union network adopted a declaration to support 300 redundant British employees. Faced with a series of restructurings, construction machine and equipment company Caterpillar’s global network highlighted the importance of sharing information and improving communication between trade unions in a declaration issued in June 2017. A network may also organise a strike within a multinational company, as the Irish airline Ryanair did in 2018.

The creation of global trade unions is part of the strategy of international trade union federations, such as UNI Global Union or IndustriALL Global Trade Union. In its action plan for 2016–2020, IndustriALL explicitly states that it:

Engages in active dialogue with multinational companies to build strong industrial relationships that enable union concerns to be raised at all levels of the company and its supply chain. This includes the establishment of world works councils to promote cross-border exchange and coordination of workers at locations worldwide.

(IndustriALL Global Union Action Plan, 2016)

Such coordination is developed though global union networks. The number of networks was estimated to be around 60 in 2010 and, although the data are inconsistent, appears to have increased in recent years. For instance, such networks have been created in the following multinational corporations: ArcelorMittal (2018), BAE Systems (2014), BNP Paribas (2015), Ericsson (2016), HeidelbergCement (2017), HSBC (2016), IKEA (2014), Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica) (2016), Pirelli (2015), Saica (2018), Saint-Gobain (2015), Sanofi (2017), Smurfit Kappa (2015), Société Générale (2015), Teleperformance (2015), Telenor (2013), and WestRock (2018).

The international trade union federations provide global trade union networks with an organisational framework, expertise and logistical support to set up the network and to organise regular meetings (usually once a year) on a global and sometimes regional level. For instance, the global trade union network created within the pharmaceutical group Sanofi was first set up in 2014 for the Asia-Pacific region, before a new regional meeting was established in South America in 2016. The network then became ‘global’ following a meeting organised in December 2017. In other cases, international trade union federations have reached an agreement with management to formalise the network ‘into the establishment of trade union information and dialogue committees at the global corporate group level and thereby to create institutionalised corporate group-related networking structures’. Management then mainly participates in meetings to discuss the strategy of the company and its economic, financial and social situation with the trade unionists.

The global trade unions network is also considered to be a tool to negotiate an international framework agreement with the multinational corporation in order to protect and develop the fundamental rights within the geographic scope of the company. In its action plan for 2016–2020 , IndustriALL says it ‘will continue to sign strong and effective global agreements’ with multinational corporations and that such global agreements ‘are owned by affiliates through IndustriALL’s global trade union networks’. For instance, in 2018, the global trade union network of STMicroelectronics adopted a declaration asking the management to negotiate a global framework agreement and to create a global works council. This was also the aim of the first meeting of HeidelbergCement’s network in November 2017 and was already the case with the Swedish group SKF, whose network became a works union committee.

Follow-up committees of international framework agreements can be seen as a way to formalise global trade union networks. For instance, the signatories of a global agreement ratified by the French energy group Total in January 2015 entrusted the monitoring of the agreement to an ad hoc committee which meets once a year. This committee is composed of representatives of the management team, a representative of IndustriALL Global Union, three employee representatives from non-EU countries and four members of the European works council. Such follow-up committees can also be seen as a first step to creating a global works council.

See also: European collective agreement; European framework agreement; European works Council; global works council; IndustriALL Europe; international framework agreement; transnational company agreements

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