STRATEGIC WORKSHOP I
The online Zoom meeting was held on 22-23 April 2021 

Board-level employees’ representatives (BLER) role in ensuring socially responsible restructuring, mergers and relocation of companies

Moderator – Dominik Owczarek (Institute of Public Affairs) – introduced the agenda of the workshop and key project objectives discussed during the session (How to apply the EU law on employee involvement in the face of transnational re-organization: cross-border conversions, mergers, divisions?). The following issues were presented: definition of board-level employee representation (BLER), classification of the EU countries in terms of BLER entitlements extend, Benefits of BLER, Role of BLER in counteracting critical situations in companies, literature.

Country presentations

Italy

Giuseppe Catanzaro

There are no direct regulations on BLER in the country. However, the right to participation in company management is ensured in the Italian Constitution (art. 46). This general provision has not been yet transposed to country legislation.

There were attempts to introduce regulations establishing BLER mechanism in the country:

– 2012 r. Labour law reform (Fornero) – introduced entitlement to establish BLER mechanism in the legislation, but operational regulations had to be put in place within 12 months, which did not take place. (unsuccessful attempt to introduce BLER).

– 2016 r. Renzi reform – the reform introduced soft measures (tax reliefs) incentivizing companies to apply social dialogue and welfare solutions at company level, including BLER, as a voluntary measure. The workers’ rights to BLER were not a part of this legislation.

– 2010 r. region Veneto – adopted a law allowing for establishing BLER mechanism in companies registered in the region

  • Recommendations:

– tax reliefs to the companies that introduce BLER

– in contrary – penalties for those companies which do not execute workers’ rights

Spain

Emilia Martin

BLER mechanism occurs in several types of companies

  • State owned companies
  • Multinational companies that operate in Spain and have BLER registered at the headquarter.

There is no BLER in the private sector.

National law allows BLER in state-owned enterprises, e.g. Iberia (airline operator), state-owned transport company, but now, after privatization there is no BLER there anymore. BLER was introduced there not by legislation, but by collective agreements. However, this form of BLER is currently widely criticized for leading to negative relations with the world of politics.

There are general provisions in the Constitution and the Labour Code which ensure the possibility of employee participation in management, but there are no detailed executive acts.

In Spain, BLER is one of the most important demands of trade unions.

BLER however, rises also some criticism in the public debate. Employers argue that the company is not a space of democracy, so co-management should not take place in this sphere.

Denmark

Barbora Majdisova

BLER in Denmark is quite well developed instrument as compared to the other partner countries and is well interconnected with the two-tier system of workers’ representation at company level. BLER might be established in companies with at least 35 workers (sustaining this level of employment for at least 2 years). Only 25% of the entitled companies have BLER. Why?

– registration and election procedure is multistage and complicated: inquiry to the board, establish election committees, Y/N vote affirming general support for BLER, if yes – set election date and call candidates, Election and entry

– the right to take half of the seats on the board of directors

– workers do not express the need to establish BLER to often because there are other mechanisms that work well.

– BLER is often a formal role, informing shareholders that the company is inclusive.

– there is a rapid globalization of enterprises and, at the same time, the level of unionization decreases,

– employees in multinational companies do not know that they have the right to appoint BLER,

– employee representatives have no added value in the work of the management board

– difficulties in implementing the interests of employees or the interests of the company (figure impossible).

– sometimes BLERs are not adequately prepared to fulfill their management responsibilities

– BLERs are mostly unionists, so this is duplication of existing structures.

Poland

Dominik Owczarek

Poland is one of the countries with limited BLER entitlements. BLER is present (almost) exclusively in the public sector in two types of enterprises: state-owned enterprises (works council) and commercialized state-owned enterprises. The total number of these companies covered by these regulations does not exceed 200 nationwide. This mechanism is therefore limited to a small group of companies – State owned or State Treasury companies

Relations between the actors of board-level participation are rather complicated, dependent on personality and attitudes of particular actors, situation of the company, strength of TUs, political climate in the country.

Rumunia

Cecilia Gostin

There is no BLER in Romania, but employees have the right to be present during the companies board’s deliberations.

Neither the trade unions nor the workers wanted BLER. Unions were afraid that employers would not consult with trade unions, and employers did not want anyone to interfere with their business.

Macedonia

Vasko Percakovski

There is no BLER in Macedonia. Under Yugoslavia, it functioned until the 1990s, but in a completely different context. This solution did not work, it was ineffective.

It is necessary to develop the entire educational system, and to prepare employees for the role of BLER and for acting as union leaders. The economic account is not the most important element in management, social and environmental factors must be taken into account.

Unfortunately, there is a threat of politicizing the BLER – this was the case in Yugoslavia, an absolutist solution. The government chooses relationships to talk to and ignores others.

Social dialogue have to be develop step by step. Legal bases are needed to be a point of reference and transparency.

Panel discussion – direct workers participation as a moderator to corporate management – focus on transnational corporate reorganisation

– In Poland, companies with BLER do not undergoes transnational restructuring (companies operating only in the country).

– In Italy, a merger in the automotive sector is an interesting case to be observed.

– In Spain, one has to take into account the differences between the stock exchange value of the company and the economic situation (the real value of the company). The latter should be prime concern of the management and the workers.

II day

The key part of the workshop assumed discussion on recommendations on how improve BLER mechanism in the partner countries and on how to shape actions plans in order to reach the desired condition. The following recommendation were expressed by the partners:

Italy

  • There is no research showing that BLER has any added value as compared to other social dialogue institutions. In such situation, unions, companies and the legislator have no incentive to create such a mechanism. Especially that BLER imposes numerous obligations on the workers’ representative.
  • Introducing an EU directive on standard solutions in BLER is ok, but it should be implemented gradually. We should consider how to better harmonize standard solutions, e.g. a fixed threshold of employees’ number allowing for establishment of BLER.
  • Observe the countries where BLER operates and learn

Spain

  • The introduction of BLER in Spain is utopian. Unions have been trying to introduce a similar system for many years, but it has failed.
  • In the meantime, once the BLER is set up, the main thing to do is to implement the current directives, and there are problems with that. For example, the law on mergers – extend the BLER right to companies in corporate divisions after the process of international restructuring. This will be an attempt at BLER operation. If this works, it will be possible to think about extending this mechanism to non-international companies. I don’t know if BLER will work well in SME.
  • If I&C could be properly implemented, then maybe BLER would not be necessary
  • Adopt a strategy step by step

Denmark

  • BLER does not automatically guarantee success. There are no studies that show the added value of BLER.
  • BLER may also produce unsatisfactory results. For example, when the representative is not well prepared when they are in the minority – this can cause frustration and tension.
  • In Denmark, the traditions and regulations regarding social dialogue are quite complex, so the BLER regulations do not necessarily have to be very simple (they reflect certain traditions and cultural patterns)
  • In CEE relationships are demonized, associated with the past, but this is not true.
  • In southern European countries, collective agreements are more important – also at the regional and sectoral level.
  • Generally you have to organize yourself and not be afraid
  • Employees must be sure that they are safe when organizing. First of all, it is necessary to strengthen the lowest level of organization and this is the most important task.
  • BLER is the icing on the cake, a nice addition. ‘

Poland

  • Development of the BLER mechanism would be appreciated in the country
  • There are tangible effects of BLER mechanism ie. blocking collective redundancies
  • It is increasingly difficult to establish BLER (and practice I&C) and enforce workers’ rights in this respect from eligible companies.
  • Dialogue at central level is also unsatisfactory, which is an effect of the current government’s policy
  • The unionization level is low, so union strength at the workplace level is insufficient
  • BLER can operate much earlier than trade unions, because information on restructuring or other company actions are available much earlier than in I&C processes.
  • We need BLER in the context of the deficit of other mechanisms of social dialogue
Action planning session II

In the second session of the workshop, the partners focused on defining action plan leading to reach desired shape of BLER. The following proposals were submitted:

  • To Carry out an EU campaign in support of the EU Directive and / or national legislation
  • Using social media (because we use paper media less often)
  • Focus groups to discuss different aspects of BLER – international groups, exchange of experiences in different countries
  • Training materials for employee representatives, including BLER, eg labor law, BLER mechanism – there are also many threads common to all employees in the EU.
  • Information portal for BLER or other body representing employees. Such a portal would be informative, but also advisory – you can turn to them and ask for help
  • Promotion of the results of our project
  • Dissemination of good practices – in an orderly manner and presented so that they can be put into practice at the workplace.
  • Disseminating information on EU and national legislation – information meetings and sharing experiences.
  • Ranking of companies that introduced BLER and achieved success in concrete terms
  • Conducting BLER evaluation studies
  • Including in-depth case studies of companies that are undergoing international restructuring. How does BLER work in them, are they just dead records, or is BLER actually playing a role. How the