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At its plenary session of 13-17 January 1997, the European Parliament debated
two important measures relating to employee consultation in European
companies. After the European Works Councils (EWCs) Directive was passed in
1994, the Commission published a Communication on the future of employee
consultation in November 1995, in order to revive a legislative issue which
has been under discussion in various forms for over 15 years. Its aim was to
explore whether the model used for determining the structure and operation of
EWCs could be used in a wider context as a basis for making progress with the
long-delayed European Company Statute.
Figures from the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (
Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon or NHO) show that over 530,000 working days
were lost in industrial conflict during the 1996 wage negotiations. These
figures cover only private sector companies which are members of NHO, but
nearly all industrial conflicts in 1996 took place within this area. This is
the highest number of working days lost since 1986, when Norway experienced a
major lockout in the private sector. In 1996, lawful strikes accounted for
all the lost working days, and the number of working days lost in strikes
alone (ie, excluding lock-outs) is thus the highest since the 1930s. The
major strikes all came in the private sector and among unions affiliated to
the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, or
LO). The Government did not, as often before, intervene to stop strikes with
compulsory arbitration. Three strikes accounted for the majority of lost
working days. These came in the metal industry, the hotel and restaurant
industry and in the electrical installation industry.
1997's collective bargaining in the private sector is concentrating on three
main issues: 100% wage compensation during maternity leave; further
negotiations over the pension scheme initiated in 1991; and a limited wage
increase to allow for inflation. The social partners in the different
bargaining areas are largely in agreement on the content of the new
collective agreements, but the central social partner organisations - the
Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Danish Employers'
Confederation (DA) - still cannot agree whether the new collective agreements
should be of two or three years' duration.
On 21 February 1997, theMinistry of Finance and the Danish Central Federation
of State Employees (CFU) signed a new collective agreement for the period
1997-9, covering 225,000 government employees. The parties agreed on a total
4.25% increase, of which 2.9% is to be allocated for a general pay rise, and
1.35% for pensions and other purposes. Additionally, a wage adjustment scheme
has been introduced to take account of private sector increases
As the legislation regulating the postal delivery monopoly will expire by the
end of 1997, on 18 February Germany's governing coalition parties proposed a
new law which would limit the exclusive licence of Deutsche Post AG, the
national postal service, to handling letters weighting under 100g, and this
only until the end of 2002. According to the Ministry responsible, this
proposal would reduce Deutsche Post's current monopoly to 87% of the standard
letter market. The proposed new law would also open completely the bulk mail
market to licensed competitors from 1 January 1998.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) launched its campaign to put workers' rights
at the centre of the general election on 14 February 1997. The campaign,
which will cost GBP 1 million, includes newspaper and cinema ads, billboards
According to a recent analysis by the Institute for Economics and Social
Science (Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut, WSI) basic wages
and salaries in western Germany grew on average by about 2.3% in 1996. Thus,
pay increased by about 0.8 percentage points above the inflation rate, which
stood at 1.5% in 1996. Altogether, about 15.1 million employees were covered
by collective agreements signed in 1996. The highest pay increases, at 2.8%,
were in the energy and water industry and in the iron and steel industry. The
lowest increases were in banking (1.5%), post and telecommunications (1.4%)
and public services (1.3%).
In February, the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) launched a consultative
paper aimed at influencing the pre-election commitments of both the
Conservative Party and Labour Party. The union, which is firmly against
privatisation of the Post Office, has called for legislation to turn it into
an independent corporation, with the level of dividends pegged at 40% of
post-tax profits. The union feels that its proposals will have equal appeal
to all political parties because of the weight of public opinion opposing
The issue of wage flexibility as a means of promoting employment growth was
initially put forward by the ex-president of Confindustria (the most
important Italian employers' association), Luigi Abete, as a problem which
had not been adequately dealt with in the 1993 income policy agreement. CISL,
one of the three main trade union confederations, later took up the wage
flexibility issue and proposed flexibility in starting wages (the so-called
"entrance salary") as a means of tackling the extremely serious employment
crisis in some southern regions of Italy.
On 6 February 1997, the Bundesverband Druck employers' association and the
Industriegewerkschaft Medien trade union signed two new nationwide collective
agreements for the 130,000 manual workers in the German printing industry.
The first agreement covers the general developments of wages, and the second
agreement is a renewal of the sector's general framework agreement on
employment conditions  (Manteltarifvertrag).