Social dialogue committee created in the graphical sector

A new European social dialogue committee has been created in the graphical sector. Unions and employers will tackle problems facing the sector caused by structural changes in the industry and by the global financial downturn. The foundations of the committee were laid in 2010. Then, European-level social partners formed a strategic partnership and worked on a joint project on socially-responsible restructuring. In May 2013, the new committee held its first meeting in Brussels.

Background

In 2010, European-level social partners in the print industry identified the need to further intensify their cooperation. It led to meetings between the UNI Europa Graphical and Packaging group, which represents workers in the sector, and Intergraf on the employers’ side. Social partners formed a strategic partnership and worked on a joint project on socially-responsible restructuring

UNI Europa Graphical currently represents more than 335,000 employees organised in 42 affiliated organisations across 33 European countries. The union forms part of UNI Europa, the European trade union federation representing trade unions from the services and skills sector. Intergraf, the European federation for print and digital communication, brings together 24 national printing federations from 21 European countries.

The European graphical industry currently accounts for around 120,000 companies, and employs more than 720,000 workers, with almost 90 per cent of companies employing fewer than 20 staff. The sector had a total turnover of around €88 billion in 2009.

Challenges facing the industry

For a number of years, the sector has been faced with a range of challenges due to changing market requirements, an increase in global competition and structural over capacity among producers. The sector has been severely affected by the most recent economic downturn, with turnover figures not expected to reach pre-crisis levels in the foreseeable future.

Aware of the challenges ahead, the social partners endorsed their willingness to work together and decided to focus on quickly setting up European social dialogue which would also provide support for dialogue at national and company level. At the same time the parties stressed that the European social dialogue committee would not interfere with the autonomy of social partners at Member State level.

Inaugural meeting sets the ground rules

The newly-established social dialogue committee for the graphical sector held its inauguration meeting on 8 May 2013 in Brussels. At the meeting, the two sides discussed and endorsed the committee’s working methods and work programme in the document A tool for dealing with future challenges in the printing sector (4MB PDF). According to the work programme, improving the sector’s competitiveness will be at the centre of their cooperation, and efforts will be shaped the around three pillars of:

  • monitoring sector developments at EU level;
  • ensuring that restructuring is carried out in a socially responsible way;
  • further developing skills and innovation capacities within the sector.

Information sharing

In a first step, the committee is planning to gather, analyse and share information on any relevant changes with social, economic, technological or environmental implications for the sector.

Acknowledging the difficult current climate for the print sector, the committee has called for the exchange of information among key stakeholders. In addition, the committee is planning to regularly organise discussions at EU level. The talks will involve both European and national social partners as well as policy experts. Activities planned include disseminating information across the sector and the EU institutions, publishing reports on relevant topics and organising events and conferences.

Restructuring

Another focus of the committee’s work will be the issue of socially-responsible restructuring in the print industry. A 2010 study (1.92MB PDF) commissioned by the two partners has already highlighted the need to assist companies in increasing competitiveness. The industry, says the study, can do this through reducing their production capacities, introducing new products and services and taking company decisions in a socially responsible way.

A toolkit (1.1MB PDF) based on the findings of this study has since provided enterprises with step-by-step advice on these issues.

Skills

The third pillar of the committee’s work programme will focus on skills development within the sector. In the current economic climate, the social partners are calling on companies in the printing sector to develop new and innovative products and services. The committee wants to support the sector in the development of skills by identifying training needs and good practice examples in skills upgrading. It is planning to set up a permanent structure for monitoring skills requirements in the graphical industry.

Commentary

This social dialogue committee is the 42nd of its kind to be established at European level. Its creation is part of a trend towards sectoral organisation across countries. It highlights the relevance of European social dialogue as a powerful tool for addressing future challenges in times of the need, and as a way to increase global competitiveness. The creation of this committee can help the social partners tackle some of the key issues facing the graphical sector, such as socially responsible restructuring and skills development.

Stefanie Ledermaier, Institute for Employment Studies

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