Euro-FIET adopts resolution on achievement of Social Europe
At its conference in March 1998, Euro-FIET - which brings together trade unions representing private sector services and white-collar workers from across Europe - adopted an important resolution setting out its priorities for the European social dialogue and European Works Councils
A resolution on Achieving a Social Europe through the social dialogue and European Works Councils was adopted by the European Regional Organisation of the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (Euro-FIET), at its eighth annual conference held in Cardiff, Wales on 29-31 March 1998.
Euro-FIET is one of the largest of the European Industry Committees affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation. It represents employee interests in the following sectors where there is a social dialogue at the European level:
- the financial sector (banking and insurance);
- hairdressing; and
- private security.
The resolution adopted at the March conference is seen as a response to the changing needs of the international economy and labour markets. The single market, Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the increasing introduction of information technology, the structural changes in Central and Eastern Europe and the internationalisation of product and financial markets are, it is argued, bringing about new challenges requiring greater innovation and adaptability on the part of companies and employees.
Industrial democracy and the social dialogue are perceived as tools to achieve this greater adaptability, which is seen particularly to require increased investment in people. Euro-FIET expresses its desire to develop the social dialogue into "an efficient tool for creating good and fair working conditions and pay systems in the European labour market".
The social dialogue process should ensure that any inevitable structural changes are carried out in a socially acceptable framework. At the company level, this is also seen to be one of the aims of European Works Councils (EWC s). While Euro-FIET welcomes the EWC legislation, it argues that the provisions of the 1994 EU Directive should be expanded at individual company level, as well as in a review of the current legislation.
Establishing an effective social dialogue
In its resolution, Euro-FIET argues that the objective of the social dialogue should be to achieve a social Europe with high-quality employment, job security and fair working conditions for everyone. It also sees a role for the sectoral social dialogue in the achievement of greater industrial democracy. The dialogue process can also be used as a tool to promote education and training initiatives, as well as acting as a forum for debate on new forms of work organisation. Euro-FIET also underlines the importance of the social dialogue in tripartite consultation on the impact and content of Community legislation. It is clear from the strategy paper that Euro-FIET would like to see the role of the social dialogue expanded in terms of the issues covered and the weight given to consultations and decisions taken at this level. The social partners in the commerce sector, for example, have long argued the need for closer consultation on all issues affecting the sector (EU9807115F)
In order to achieve the aims outlined above, Euro-FIET is committed to developing formal relations with employers in the European Union in all sectors where it represents members. It stresses the importance of dealing with representative organisations which have a mandate to commit those they represent. Euro-FIET is keen to ensure that all matters of relevance to employees in the sector are subject to debate in the European social dialogue, including industrial policy, as well as any wider EU decisions which are set to have an impact on employees in the different sectors. It is argued that the sectoral social dialogue should play an important role in setting down minimum labour standards, to be used as guidelines by national member organisations, without undermining national standards or procedures. These would include job security measures and negotiations on working time. Joint measures to encourage education and training and to improve equality of opportunity are also envisaged.
Strategic development and overall coordination of the social dialogue is to be the responsibility of the Euro-FIET executive committee, with maximum input from national affiliates in the different trade sections (which cover sectors such as banking, insurance, industry, commerce, cleaning, private security, healthcare, tourism, hairdressing and beauty treatment).
In its resolution, Euro-FIET demands that the European Commission devote sufficient importance, time and personnel to the social dialogue. It also calls for improvements to the Maastricht social policy Agreement and Protocol to ensure that Euro-FIET is consulted in its own right on issues affecting employees in the sectors it covers. The sectoral social dialogue should be given a clear opportunity to improve on any framework agreements negotiated at intersectoral level, if this is deemed necessary.
The challenges and opportunities of European Works Councils
EWCs are seen to provide an opportunity for strengthening industrial democracy in Europe and contributing to the creation of a social Europe. While Euro-FIET welcomes the EWC Directive, it argues that it is imperative to work with the European Trade Union Confederation and other industry federations to improve the provisions laid down in the Directive. Such improvements are also to be achieved in each individual agreement at company level. One of the key aims of Euro-FIET's strategy is that every company in its area of activity is covered by an EWC agreement.
The resolution stresses that agreements negotiated should not undermine existing national bargaining provisions or weaken the powers of national works councils. It also sets out the roles to be played by the executive committee, trade sections and national affiliates to achieve a coherent policy. The Euro-FIET executive committee should:
- monitor negotiations;
- review progress;
- circulate biannual updates of EWC relations with each company on the basis of a report drawn up by the trade sections;
- review negotiating guidelines;
- define the role of experts;
- develop cooperative strategies with other industry federations;
- ensure Euro-FIET's input into the European Company Statute initiative; and
- delegate where possible the coordination of an EWC to a national trade union
Euro-FIET's trade sections should:
- monitor and, where necessary, participate in negotiations;
- assist in the framing of policy priorities, particularly where there is a sectoral interest involved; and
- seek to relate the work of the social dialogue to the individual EWCs.
Lastly, affiliated national unions should:
- be fully involved in trade section activities;
- follow the policy guidelines elaborated by the executive committee;
- communicate to the secretariat the status of relations with EWCs, particularly where the group has its HQ in their country;
- develop communications and training initiatives; and
- nominate a contact person to coordinate EWC activity.
In addition, Euro-FIET has called on the European Commission to: promote EWCs; continue to provide funding for training and research in this area; establish a mechanism to inform EWCs of relevant EU initiatives concerning their sector; and, in the forthcoming review the Directive, seek to overcome the problems of exclusion associated with employee representatives from small undertakings due to non-compliance with existing threshold criteria.
The resolution also develops a policy for EWCs themselves. The following are the main points of the resolution.
- Where possible, each Euro-FIET affiliate in the company should have an opportunity to be represented.
- EWC members should receive training financed by the company.
- EWCs should have the proper "servicing infrastructure".
- EWCs should have the means to communicate to members in all locations and to Euro-FIET. Agreements should include free access to e-mail. Advantage should be taken of FIET's existing IT infrastructure to develop appropriate databases.
- EWC members should be aware of their responsibility to the EWC, to their own union and to Euro-FIET.
- A solidarity mechanism should be established within Euro-FIET in the event of sudden announcements of closure, redundancy or new corporate plans likely to have an impact on the workforce.
- Euro-FIET should provide a medium through which EWCs can interact with the sectoral social dialogue and Euro-FIET social policy in order that the whole dialogue network can be mutually supporting and reinforcing.
- In Community-wide enterprises, consideration should be given to the establishment of "national intermediary groups" financed by the company.
Euro-FIET is one of the few organisations so far to develop a comprehensive policy on social Europe. Clearly, the social dialogue in some of the sectors represented by Euro-FIET is far more advanced than in others. While in some sectors, the dialogue remains very much a forum for information exchange and the development of joint projects, in others discussions and initiatives have shown far greater propensity to lead to joint texts of various kinds. The organisation is clearly keen to see the role of the sectoral social dialogue further enhanced and supported by the European Commission. The demand is particularly for the greater involvement of the sectoral social partners in all discussions on policies influencing the sector. The sectoral social dialogue is clearly perceived as a forum for setting employment and labour standards, as well as for launching initiatives designed to increase employability and competitiveness. The globalisation of the economy is seen to require the greater Europeanisation of such debates and activities.
A number of European sectoral trade union organisations have developed strategies in relation to EWCs. Research by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions has indicated that the influence of European industry federations on the nature of EWC agreements can be significant (EU9803191F) They play a particularly important role in achieving a greater standardisation in such agreements. (Peter Foster and Tina Weber, ECOTEC Research and Consulting)