Union confederation adopts new policy statement on Europe

In September 2006, participants at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress endorsed a policy statement on Europe, which was drawn up by the organisation’s general council. The statement argues for a stronger social dimension to European integration.

Participants at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), held during September 2006, debated and adopted a new policy statement on Europe, which was prepared by the TUC’s general council. The TUC believes that, in light of the successful trade union campaign against the proposed EU directive on the provision of services in the internal market, and in preparation for the 2007 congress of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), it is time to ‘relaunch the campaign for a social Europe’.

Key points of statement

Importance of social dimension

The TUC policy statement argues that the French referendum on the draft constitutional treaty showed that people are not prepared to support a Europe ‘designed for profit rather than people’, and that ‘without a strong social dimension, the European Union will fail to provide its citizens with the security they need to face the challenges of globalisation’.

The statement goes on to affirm that: ‘The European social model is not a drain on the productivity and wealth of the European economy, but the potential source of its strength and resilience’. Moreover, the TUC recognises that the EU has delivered ‘important rights for working people’, but believes that ‘the European trade union movement needs a clear and positive vision of the sort of Europe … we want to see so that trade unionists can understand what Europe can deliver for them in terms of practical improvements in their lives and their communities’.

Main objectives

The statement calls for a Europe characterised by the following qualities:

  • prosperity and decent work for its citizens through a single market in goods and services, balanced by a strong social dimension of positive rights at work and social justice;
  • a strong trade union voice on behalf of workers, with unions able to play their full part as social partners in agreements with employers and in consultation with governments;
  • adequate public education, health and social services which can assist all workers to fulfil their potential, while also delivering a safety net for vulnerable workers;
  • respect for diversity, where discrimination is challenged effectively and where migrant workers are treated equally;
  • economic growth balanced by sustainability, and where climate change is tackled effectively through social dialogue and where security of energy supplies is achieved through developing alternative energy sources and a balanced energy policy.

Views on social agenda

The TUC considers that the EU social policy agenda is ‘far from complete’, and that ‘many workers not currently covered should have the protections of Europe’s social model extended to them. This would require a temporary agency work directive, a revised posted workers directive (Directive 96/71/EC) and a better definition of “worker” to extend employment rights to those on atypical work contracts or in domestic work’.

On the subject of working time, the TUC wants to see a ‘new agenda’ that includes: abolishing the individual opt-out clause from Council Directive 93/104/EC on the organisation of working time; resolving the ‘on-call’ issue in a way that favours workers; and promoting a family-friendly work–life balance. Furthermore, Council Directive 94/45/EC on the establishment of European Works Councils ‘needs to be strengthened to provide workers in transnational corporations with a greater influence over their employment’.

Support for collective bargaining

The statement argues that the EU needs to give much greater support and encouragement to collective bargaining and social dialogue, ‘not least because collective bargaining offers a flexible way to implement workers’ rights in the specific circumstances of different countries or enterprises’. The TUC would also like to see the European Charter of Fundamental Rights incorporated into European law.

According to the TUC statement, one of the ‘key strengths’ of the European social model is its high level of trade union membership. The TUC argues that more needs to be done by ETUC and trade unions across Europe to address the challenge of maintaining and increasing membership levels.

Trade union reaction

The general council’s policy statement can be regarded as seeking to re-establish a broadly positive TUC stance towards European integration, following the outcome of the TUC’s annual conference in 2005 when a ‘Euro-sceptic’ resolution was adopted that rejected the proposed EU constitutional treaty (UK0510101N). The statement was criticised on these grounds by a number of conference participants, including representatives of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G), Unison and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) – the latter being the union that put forward last year’s ‘Euro-sceptic’ resolution. However, an attempt by the RMT to have the statement referred back to the TUC’s general council was unsuccessful and the conference voted to adopt the statement.

Mark Hall, IRRU, University of Warwick

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