Progress on cross-national trade union cooperation
In February 2009, in Athens, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria and the Greek General Confederation of Labour signed an agreement for cooperation aimed at better representation of trade union rights. Recognising the need to strengthen international trade union cooperation, both confederations agreed to combine their efforts and activities in developing industrial relations systems in harmonisation with European policies and good practices.
On 5 February 2009, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (Конфедерация на независимите синдикати в България, CITUB) and the Greek General Confederation of Labour (Γενική Συνομοσπονδία Εργατών Ελλάδας, GSEE) signed a protocol for cooperation in Athens, aiming to achieve better representation of trade union rights. Both confederations recognise the need to strengthen international trade union cooperation and offer a package of international trade union services, consultancy and cross-border recognition of membership for protection of the rights and interests of their members.
This agreement is a continuation of CITUB’s intentions to develop such initiatives with trade unions in other EU Member States (BG0612019I, BG0805019I). The protocol is a result of a series of international meetings and initiatives that CITUB has undertaken to support about 80,000 Bulgarian nationals who are currently illegally employed in Greece. As a practical example, the confederation has highlighted the case of Constantina Kouneva, a Bulgarian migrant worker (TN0701038S) and General Secretary of the All Attica Union of Cleaners and Domestic Workers (PEKOP) based in Athens, which represents workers in the cleaning industry in the Attiki region in central Greece.
On 22 December 2008, Ms Kouneva was attacked with sulphuric acid and was admitted to a hospital in a critical condition. Ms Kouneva is one among the hundreds of female immigrant workers who have been working for years as cleaners (GR0804019I). She was attacked after she and her colleagues demanded the full amount of their Christmas bonus. Previously, in an interview for the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) at the end of November 2008, Ms Kouneva had denounced the poverty wages and harsh working conditions in the industrial cleaning sector, where the vast majority of the employees are migrants and women.
The attack led to the occupation of the Athens Piraeus Electric Railways (Ηλεκτρικοί Σιδηρόδρομοι Αθηνών Πειραιώς, ISAP) headquarters in the Greek capital city and a protest march to the hospital where Ms Kouneva lies in a coma. The CITUB leader, Zhelyazko Hristov, described it as ‘a shocking incident’ and added that the confederation will cover all expenses for the treatment of Ms Kouneva.
Protocol for cooperation
Guided by the acknowledged need to develop industrial relations systems in Bulgaria and Greece with a view to harmonisation with European policies and good practices, the leaderships of CITUB and GSEE have agreed to combine efforts and use all available means for organising joint activities in a range of areas. Both confederations thus agree to:
- plan and coordinate joint trade union actions related to the workers of both countries, develop common initiatives in the broader Balkan region in order to strengthen solidarity among trade union organisations and organise a wide array of joint trade union activities;
- encourage labour mobility so that workers can find a job in either country and participate in the respective trade union organisations of the country in which they work, with a view to better defending their trade union rights;
- prepare for the establishment of cross-border consultancy infrastructure and information centres, which will be coordinated by a Joint Council comprising CITUB and GSEE representatives;
- recognise the importance of cooperation and the development of bilateral relations and carry out common actions in the field of research, vocational training and trade union education;
- promote actions to develop common projects. They will join efforts in planning, coordinating and carrying out training workshops and conferences on subjects of common interest;
- develop combined actions to support the technological infrastructure of the trade union research bodies in Bulgaria and Greece.
With a view to implementing the protocol on cooperation, CITUB and GSEE agree to appoint their own representatives in a permanent working group that will organise and coordinate the actions aiming to achieve the goals of the agreement. To this end, a work meeting will take place within one year from the date of the protocol’s signature.
The trade union initiative is evidence of trade union solidarity and it increases the security of labour migration. The agreement represents a further step in the joint efforts between Bulgarian and Greek trade unions in regulating labour migration and establishing effective relations between the two countries.
Snezhana Dimitrova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)