Innovative agreement for EU chemical social partners

EU-level social partners in the chemicals sector – EMCEF and ECEG – signed the first framework agreement of its kind, on training and job competences, in this sector on 15 April 2011. This agreement, an autonomous initiative, covers employees in the sector in all 27 EU Member States and aims to ensure conformity of competences in the EU. Social partners hope this will be a foundation for sustainable growth and help businesses and workforces through the economic crisis.

Aim of the agreement

The agreement was signed by the European Chemical Employers Group (ECEG) and the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers' Federation (EMCEF). It states that, in order to increase competitiveness and ensure high standards of health and safety in the chemicals sector, it is crucial to ensure all workers in the sector are highly skilled. An effective way of doing this is to ensure an equal quality and value of qualifications in the sector. The agreement aims to achieve this and also to increase the number of skilled workers in the sector.

In particular, this agreement seeks to provide a framework concerning competence profiles for two key roles – process operator and first line supervisor. Competence profiles for these two roles are appended to the agreement.

The specific stated aims of this agreement are:

  • to contribute to an equal quality and value of education and training in order to enhance employability and mobility in the European chemical industry sector;
  • to ensure the conformity of these competences within Europe, which will facilitate their transferability;
  • to enable, through these core competences, the establishment of benchmarks for national qualifications, national Vocational Education and Training (VET) programmes and company human resources development, where recognition of existing qualifications gained through ‘learning by doing’ or training on the job might be part of the training;
  • to favour the active support of the social partners in adapting and modernising VET systems at European and national levels and in-company training and lifelong learning;
  • to further encourage dialogue between employers and workers in the field of job design and development.

Competence profiles

The first competence profile relates to the position of Process Operator in the European Chemical Industry, defined as a worker who ‘supervises and operates production process equipment requiring a specific procedure in respect of health and safety, quality and environmental protection. For this the operator uses a great variety of monitoring and operating equipment, ranging from simple equipment to a central control room with integrated measuring and regulating functions for the supervision and control of the production process’.

The competence profile contains sections relating to technical competence, business improvement competences, compliance competences, and functional and behavioural competences.

The second competence profile relates to the position of First Line Supervisor in the European Chemical Industry, defined as a worker who ‘controls a production unit and solves common problems according to a defined schedule and in respect of health and safety, quality and environmental protection regulations and procedures’. This worker leads a team of operators.

This profile also contains sections relating to competence in technical areas, business improvement, compliance, and functional and behavioural issues.

The agreement emphasises that in both of these cases, these core competences explicitly do not replace or override existing national, regional or company qualifications for these occupations or the pay levels of Process Operator and First Line Supervisor.

Monitoring

The signatory parties will promote the provisions of this European framework agreement among their members at European, national, sectoral, regional, local and company level. Member organisations will report annually on any actions in relation to the agreement, and these annual reports will also take into account possible modification of the agreement by adding provisions that enhance education, training and lifelong learning in the sector.

A full evaluation of the implementation of this agreement will be carried out by ECEG and EMCEF after three years.

Commentary

This own-initiative agreement is the first of its type in the chemical industry. It is also being seen as a strong example of how trade unions and employers in the chemical sector have worked to help businesses and workforces through the global economic crisis and build a platform for sustainable growth for the future. The signatory parties stress that this agreement will not replace or override any national occupational profiles. Instead, the emphasis is on providing a European-wide competence profile for specific jobs, which will no doubt be a significant step in helping to enhance mobility and recognition of qualifications across borders in this sector within the EU.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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