Overwhelming majority of employers represented by new organisation
The formation was announced in October 2000 of a new employers' structure in Luxembourg. The Union of Luxembourg Enterprises (UEL) brings together organisations representing 34,000 enterprises with 200,000 workers, accounting for 85% of GDP. It aims to act as an "influential new partner in the economic and social arenas".
The Union of Luxembourg Enterprises (Union des entreprises luxembourgeoises, UEL) was set up on 29 June 2000 and launched publicly on 3 October 2000. It brings together various employers' confederations, federations, associations and professional chambers (the bodies which represent the various categories of employers and give opinions on any legislation affecting them). UEL succeeds the Employers' Liaison Committee (Comité de liaison patronal), a structure that grouped the various employers' bodies and professional chambers, but whose interventions tended to be only sporadic (LU9801138N).
UEL claims to represent 34,000 enterprises with some 200,000 workers (out of a total national workforce of 248,000), responsible for 85% of Gross Domestic Product (LUF 731 billion in 1999). Describing itself as an "influential new partner in the economic and social arenas", UEL intends to play a new rôle "not on the defensive, but in the interests of developing the national economy, by promoting the spirit of enterprise and the courage to take risks". In this context, the new organisation "will take all initiatives" that are appropriate.
The main aims of UEL fall under four headings:
- representing and defending the interests of enterprises and the business world generally at national and international level;
- helping to promote an environment that is favourable to the development of private initiative;
- coordinating the defence of interests shared by the various economic sectors; and
- promoting intersectoral solidarity.
However, the new organisation does not aim to cause or resolve conflicts of interest among employers: its sole objective is to provide all enterprises, all employers' associations and the economy with something "extra". Each sector will still be able to express its own point of view, and it is not ruled out that it may be impossible to reach a consensus on some points.
UEL has set out eight specific objectives, as follows:
- promoting the "spirit of enterprise" through initiatives that will be mainly targeted at young people, starting with schools, and operating within the framework of a general plan.
- focusing more on the competitiveness of companies, and no longer dissociating increases in productivity with those in pay costs. In this context, the issue of pay formation, including pay indexation and the national minimum wage, must be examined very closely. For UEL, indexation must no longer be a taboo subject - there is a need to make an objective study of its advantages and disadvantages and its impact on the economy, and then to draw conclusions. It should be noted that employers' demands for an abolition of the automatic indexation of pay are rearticulated from time to time (LU9911115F);
- opening up businesses more towards the world of education, with a view to becoming a "favoured partner". In order to prepare young people to cope with the fundamental and rapid changes that are occurring, particularly in the context of the "information society", the education system must adapt to the changes taking place in the economic, technological and sociological arenas if it is to achieve its mission;
- ensuring that planning rules and the development of the environment and infrastructures enable enterprises to develop their activities by means of a coherent policy, with public investment harnessed to the service of the economy. The state and local authorities should create "activity zones";
- building a necessary "symbiosis" between the economy and the environment. Political instruments for protecting the environment must enable enterprises to respond to essential ecological requirements, while at the same time preserving their competitive position;
- in the area of fiscal policy, which is seen as a key component of economic policy, seeking tax rates that compare favourably with those in other European Union countries and fit within a prudent budgetary policy;
- modernising social security institutions. As far as pensions are concerned, given long-term demographic movements, UEL argues for a second and third pillar of funding. In health insurance, it is seen as important to determine real needs first, and then determine the appropriate sums of money. UEL also draws the attention of political leaders to the need to set up appropriate hospital and medical infrastructures, while at the same time seeking "synergies" in the wider region (ie the countries bordering on Luxembourg) in order to make economies of scale; and
- seeking a modern approach to work organisation that reconciles the constraints of enterprises and the aspirations of individuals, while asserting that an across-the-board reduction in working hours is inappropriate in the current economic climate.
Lastly, UEL has stressed its desire for social dialogue, seeing the Luxembourg Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (Onofhängege Gewerkschafts-Bond Lëtzebuerg, OGB-L) and the Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Lëtzebuerger Chrëschtleche Gewerkschafts-Bond, LCGB) as partners (on a par with the government and indeed the university community). Meetings with these trade unions have already been arranged.
Trade union reaction
LCGB's immediate response to the formation of UEL was that it did not dispute that the new body represented 34,000 enterprises, but suggested that it was highly unlikely that it could represent employers generally. LCGB described as "interesting" UEL's statement that it wanted to coordinate the defence of interests shared by the various economic sectors, and that it wanted to be a new partner in social dialogue. The union hoped that the new president of UEL would be able to speak in future on behalf of the 34,000 employers, but at the same time expressed a desire that the unions would not be permanently confronted with a "no" aimed at damaging the present social protection system.
Luxembourg has always seen open arguments within the trade unions, particularly concerning the issue of representativeness (LU0011152F). Employers' associations embrace divergent views that are no less fundamental, but they do not tend to debate their problems in public. The unexpected demise of the Employers' Liaison Committee and the subsequent establishment of UEL suggest friction behind the scenes. However, the very high level of representativeness of the new organisation may represent new enthusiasm on the part of the employers to speak with "a single voice". The author believes that UEL's interventions will be restricted to broad principles, and that the real decisions will continue to be taken at the usual sectoral levels. (Marc Feyereisen)