New union for employees of international and European organisations

The German trade unions, ÖTV and DAG, announced in April 1997 the establishment of a joint subsidiary union for the employees of international and European organisations. The new International Public Servants Organisation (IPSO) should become active in international and European organisations which are located in Germany, such as the European Monetary Institute or the European Patent Office.

On 28 April 1997, the German Public Services, Transport and Traffic Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr, ÖTV) and the German White-Collar Workers' Union (Deutsche Angestellten-Gewerkschaft, DAG) announced the foundation of a new joint subsidiary union for the employees of international and European organisations which are located in Germany. Through the newly established "International Public Servants Organisation" (IPSO), both unions want to create an effective interest representation for the employees working in organisations like the European Monetary Institute in Frankfurt or the European Patent Office in Munich. The foundation of IPSO should also avoid competition between ÖTV and DAG in the recruitment of members in international and European organisations, and should lead to a closer cooperation between the unions. The latter is particularly important because of the fact that the DAG is the only significant German trade union which is not a member of the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB).

Labour relations in international and European organisations

The continuing increase of the importance of international politics and economic relations has led to a historically high density of international organisations and institutions. In particular, the new dynamism of European integration since the mid-1980s through the Single European Market and again through the Maastricht Treaty on European Union and the further transfer of power to a European level of policy-making, has led to a rapid increase of European authorities. In 1993, the institutions of the European Union employed more than 26,000 employees.

International organisations are based on international agreements between governments in which sovereign national states hand over a certain set of sovereign rights to the organisation which is being set up. The organisations are therefore able to act as sovereign entities themselves within the given framework. Their legal construction puts them outside any national institution of the country in which they are based. The special feature of all international organisations lies in the protocols on "privileges and immunity rights" which come with the international treaties on which the organisations are based. They provide that international organisations are completely independent from the national legislation of the country they operate in. This immunity applies to all aspects of national legislation.

Considering the fact that international organisations are not embedded into any kind of national systems of institutions they are also free to set up their own deceives of labour relations and working organisations and conditions. Nevertheless, according to a recent study carried out for the Hans Böckler Foundation ("The 'culture-free' organisation? Industrial relations in European authorities", Anke Hassel, unpublished study for the Hans Böckler Foundation, Düsseldorf (1996)), the formal regulation of labour relations in international organisations shows a high degree of similarity across different organisations.

  1. In all international organisations, the principal decision-making power is in the authority of an administrative board. Since the employees of international organisations have the status of civil servants, there is no right to collective bargaining and payment and working conditions are determined by decree of the administrative board. However, this seems to be less of a problem for the employees, because they usually receive payment which is much higher than the payment in comparable national institutions.
  2. Most of the international organisations have a kind of elected staff representation, which is based on an organisations' specific statute for personnel. The latter also gives the staff representatives some information and consultation rights, which, in comparison to most national regulations (for instance, German co-determination rights) are rather weak. However, the real influence of the staff representation depends very much on the specific labour relations climate in the various international organisations. The consultation of staff representatives by management often takes place in so-called "parity committees", in which the staff representatives and management representatives come together to discuss either general personnel questions or specific questions on individual employees. Sometimes there are a range of parity committees covering recruitment, promotion and disciplinary measures, but also social issues such as canteens. The role of the parity committee is the adoption of a shared opinion of both sides.
  3. Almost all international organisations in their formal statutes accept the right of the employees to organise in trade unions. In many international organisations, an organisation-based trade union been established - for instance, at the European Patent Office (EPO), there is a Staff Union (SUEPO), which claims a union density of more than 60% in the Munich office. However, since there is no collective bargaining in international organisations the position of trade unions is rather weak. As the study by the Hans Böckler Foundation discovered, there is hardly any contact between the national trade unions of the countries in which the authorities are based and organisation-based unions. In the case of the EPO there is even a high degree of hostility between the local trade unions, since the German Patent Office is the direct neighbour of the EPO and there is a great degree of rivalry between the two, which apparently influences the trade unions as well.

The tasks of IPSO

According to the leaders of ÖTV and DAG, Herbert Mai and Roland Issen, the newly-established IPSO should represent "the economic, social, occupational and cultural interests" of its potential members in international and European organisations based in Germany. It is the aim of IPSO to work within the staff representations of the international organisations, and to provide legal support for members. IPSO also wants to reach collective agreements with the international organisations and, if necessary, organise industrial action.

The IPSO's organisation will be based in Frankfurt and will be led by an elected executive board. There will also be an advisory board, comprised of seven members, including two members from the executive boards of ÖTV and DAG respectively. All in all, the two unions estimate that IPSO could reach about 12,000 employees working in German-based international organisations.

Commentary

Labour relations in international organisations are independent from the national industrial relations system in which the organisation is based, in accordance with the specific legal framework. Therefore, national trade unions have had almost no influence on labour relations in international organisations so far. Through the foundation of IPSO, the German trade unions ÖTV and DAG are, for the first time, trying to get involved in the staff representation of employees working for bodies such as the European Monetary Institute or the EPO. Nevertheless, because of the weak legal status of trade unions in international organisations, it will take a lot of effort to establish IPSO within these international authorities. (Thorsten Schulten, Institute for Economics and Social Science (WSI))

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