STRATEGIC WORKSHOP II
Online– October 2021 – 2 days
Welcome and presentation of the objectives of the meeting
Welcome of the partners was proceeded with registration of participants and adjusting technical details necessary to assure stable connection to online conference on the Zoom platform. All partners were welcomed by the representative of the leader from (CONFSAL, Italy).
Introductory input: EWCs role in the cross-border corporate restructuring
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-organisation: cross-border conversions, mergers, divisions?). The following issues were presented: definition and idea of European works councils (EWC), EU legislation and eligibility to establish the EWC, discussion on amending the Directive EU 94/45/WE and the new provisions of the recast Directive EU 2009/38/WE, EWCs in figures (number, sectors, country of headquarter, etc.). The presentation also included information on the current phase of the project and the further steps. See PP presentation attached.
The country presentations outlining the key research findings followed the introductory presentation.
- EWCs are the first instrument to establish collective labour relations at the supranational level – unique legislation on a global scale.
- Still, however, EWCs have not developed their potential in Italy. This is theoretical participation, used little (too little)
- 2012 the Directive was transposed (Decree 113)
- There are industry differences in some sectors that EWCs make more sense than in others
- EWCs operate in 67 companies. EWCs out of 80 companies in Italy where they can be established.
- The potential of the EWC is not used because the 2008+ crisis resulted in many restructuring, which disrupted the functioning of the EWC
- The climate in these companies is not conducive to the operation of EWCs
- Legal tools are and are well rated but underused
- Conclusions from the interviews: EWCs should facilitate labour relations, and they are not even known to employees, half of the respondents believe that EWCs have no real influence on employee issues, but most believe that it can be a good instrument to improve social dialogue if would be corrected. Half of the respondents also considered it a good instrument to extend it to smaller companies as well
It has been analyzed since 2012, which is when there is a transposition of the directive to the Spanish legal system.
In Spain, only half of the eligible companies have a CEE. Why: companies do not want to, there is no tradition of social dialogue in this way, there is no tradition of corporations (it dominates the SME sector).
The most tangible achievements of the EWCs refer to their function as organs of transmission of information to the workers on transnational issues of multinational companies so that they are aware of them.
Evaluation of the functioning of the EWCs from the perspective of stakeholders at the national level:
EWCs effectively provide information to employees, while the consultation process is often insufficient.
Problem to communicate clear and timely information so that the unions can give an effective response.
The language barrier and cultural differences are also a challenge. Meetings are too few (1 per year) and insufficiently financed.
Confidentiality is a restriction on the transmission of information to employees
Recommendations: meet more often, better prepare for meetings, translate documents, create a digital platform for exchanging information outside of meetings/forums and submitting documents, the possibility of meeting in smaller groups to discuss specific topics, training for EWC members (economic, financial, European issues, labor law, to better understand company documents),
- Increase the number of annual meetings between the EWC and the company’s management, to at least two, as well as the meetings between the members of the Committee, to analyze the issues to be discussed with the company.
- Promote the exchange of union representatives between company headquarters in different countries.
- Create working groups within the Committees to address certain issues of interest.
- Take advantage of digital information and communication systems to interact, organize and develop dialogue between social agents.
- Facilitate a basic knowledge of the labor regulations of each country with representation in the Committees. Likewise, basic economic training should be provided to the members of the Committees so that the information provided by the companies is more understandable for them.
- Improve consultation procedures and convert these EWCs into real negotiation forums, in which specific labor agreements can be reached at a European level, which are applicable to all staff.
- A proactive attitude is necessary on the part of the members of the EWCs to propose topics for debate and improvements in the functioning and effectiveness of these bodies.
We can conclude that, in general, thanks to the Directives that regulate the European Works Councils and their transposition into national legislation, information processes for workers in multinational companies have improved, especially in those matters that significantly affect the interests of the workers. Regarding the consultation procedures, the legislation has been less effective, since according to what was stated by the interviewees and indicated in the literature in this regard, the EWCs have little influence on the decision-making processes in the companies, especially in restructuring cases affecting employment.
It is therefore necessary to continue improving the efficiency of the European Works Councils to guarantee that the consultation rights of the workers are carried out. However, despite their limitations, EWCs have proven to be a very useful forum for communication and exchange of knowledge and experiences between union representatives at European level, which can bring benefits to unions and workers.
- 2011 introduction of the new directive into Danish legislation
- TDC (Danish telecom) agreement with the EWC. If circumstances affecting the interests of the employees develop (national or international restructuring) then the EWC has the right to meet the ad-hoc management board and consult the details of the restructuring. The meetings involve institutions of social dialogue in a given company, unions, reps (shop stewards), BLER, coming from all countries concerned. You cannot negotiate wages, but if there are large wage disparities between countries (e.g. gender inequality, it can be consulted).
- Co-Industry – cooperation of unions operating in various companies with a technical profile (to be completed in the country report)
o It is crucial to form an appropriate agreement setting out the rules for the operation of EWCs – especially in the context of transnational restructuring
o Active presence of all EWC members is essential – cooperation between members / communication
o It is worth using the right to access the company’s business information (strategies, budgets, plans, etc. Competencies are necessary for understanding these documents
o it is necessary to overcome cultural differences for joint action (Cultural convergence) –
o for example through the bulletin / newsletter – constant exchange of information
o Conduct periodic evaluation of the test / disobedience
- EU Directives transposed in two steps: Directive UE 94/45/WE 🡪 Act on the European Works Councils, 5th April 2002; Directive UE 2009/38/WE 🡪 Act on European Works Councils, 22th October 2011
- Socio-economic context: Rapid privatization of enterprises with wide access to foreign capital in the 1990ties, Shifting the main decision-making centres in companies to multinational corporations – mostly with headqarters abroad 🡪 limited significance for national boards in making decisions, including those important from the workers’ perspective, marginalization of trade unions in privatized companies (social issues subordinated to economic efficiency) due to weak institutions of industrial relations, Some expectations among TU to obtain adequate representation in collective industrial relations in TNCs ans establishing new level of IR
- EWCs’ Members from Poland present in approx. 200 EWCs, One EWC in company with headquarter in Poland (scandinavian capital), One EWC in the process of establishment – ORLEN (oil company operating in CZ, DE, LT, PL)
- Assessment of EWCs’:
- direct contact with the central management – a chance to present the specificity of individual countries of an international enterprise,
- improving the competences of representatives of European works councils – the possibility of using training and external expertise,
- exchange of good practices – the possibility of developing common social standards for an international enterprise,
- increasing the motivation of the national management board to apply the standards of cooperation and social dialogue applicable in the company.
- limited agency of the Polish representative of the EWC (especially among non-unionized members)
- delays in organizing consultations by national boards (EWC representatives do not have time to read the documentation or use additional expertise by the employees)
- lack of adequate substantive preparation of Polish representatives to the EWC and the language barrier
- limited solidarity among EWCs members (mostly East-West divide)
- EWCs do not address the issue of wages and other core elements of working conditions. Therefore, the EWC mechanism does not play a significant role in the convergence of labour standards between EU countries, which gives rise to dissatisfaction and frustration among some of its members from Poland.
- Recommendations: Effective and practical training – continuous improvement of competences, opinions or positions of employee representatives, Time – enabling representatives of EWCs to familiarize themselves with documentation early enough or to order an objective expert opinion. Extension of the EWCs competences to core employment issues.
• The transformation processes similar to those in Poland: privatisation of state companies, internationalisation of the ownership, decision-making centres abroad
• After the reform after the crisis of 2008+, the industry dialogue and the conclusion of collective labour agreements were in practice prevented by setting too high thresholds
• EWCs are generally viewed positively,
• Current governments do not understand the need for social dialogue
Panel discussion – Information and consultation mechanisms as a moderator to corporate management – focus on transnational corporate reorganisation
Jacek Murawski – member of the EWC in Bombardier and then in Alstom after take over. Currently there are 40 thousand workers in the company, including 4 thousand in Poland. Reported problems:
- The number of representatives from Poland was reduced to 2 (from previously 5) – problem of reducing country representation.
- Lack of procedures for providing information and consultations, procedural problems, time, using the confidentiality clause entered on all materials from the employer.
- The sanctions for breaking the law are too low
Study visits would be useful in order to better understand country specificities
The challenge is to hold elections – only trade unions have the capacity to do so.
Piotr Kursatzky – Member of the EWC at Arcelormittal. The proposal to reduce the number of board members – cost reduction argument. This is a signal that something wrong is going on.
CONFSAL, Italy as representative of the leader welcomed the participants to the second day of the workshop and outlined the agenda for the day.
Preliminary results of the study on BLER in comparative perspective
Project expert – Dominik Owczarek (IPA) – presented a summary of the country inputs presented during the first day in the comparative perspective. (see details of the country presentations above).
Action planning session I and II
The key part of the workshop assumed discussion on recommendations on how improve EWC 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:
• Training for general staff as well as for EWC members is important.
• Shortening the period for concluding an agreement (not three years as provided for in the directive, but shorter)
• Confidentiality – defining what can be communicated to employees and what is confidential. If the confidentiality is too high, it undermines the importance of the role of the EWC in the eyes of employees
• Change the mental approach to EWCs – we are all in one council and work for all employees, not in national terms. Otherwise, we are far from the ideal of strengthening the European pillar of social dialogue.
- Communication plays a crucial role in addressing current problems ie. during the pandemic, the situation was dynamic • But only 50% of the time EWCs received information during a pandemic – this is something that needs to be improved.
- The reverse process followed – instead of intensifying dialogue, EWC meetings were cancelled
• Need for better communication between EWC members. Meeting 1 per year is insufficient. There is a need to find mechanisms allowing permanent communication mechanisms, e.g. digital technologies, format, application for document exchange, good practices, conducting talks, but also the possibility of meeting in subgroups.
• Good practice: in Carrefour there is such a platform for discussion at the EWC level – would allow the exchange of information on dealing with the pandemic and the introduction of a sanitary regime.
• Creating specialized working groups working on a given topic in detail – which would be presented in the form of the EWC’s annual meeting
Employers perspective (Jose Antonio Marin):
- EWCs for employers are very important – especially in a pandemic situation. A synergy between capital and labour is needed. It is not only the responsibility of trade unions, but jointly with the employer to find a solution to the crisis, to improve the company’s operations.
- Unions in the past were clerical workers and not necessarily manual workers. They did not know their situation.
- And now office workers should also be unionized so that the voices of the various work groups are represented
• More research on the functioning of specific EWCs is needed – larger and more diverse sample of respondents
• A proposal to submit a new application to the European Commission, but with a more advanced methodology. + partnership with other stakeholders at EU and national level
- But one must also remember about advocacy activities aimed at a real change in the situation of employees – involve stakeholders at the EU level, as well as national trade unions.
Alstom bought Bombardier – which had to be registered by the European Commission: the EC requested for the countermeasures – Some lines had to be sold to other companies. These activities had to be agreed with the EWC – without an agreement they could not proceed with the restructuring process
- The role of experts in empowering the EWC is important – Syndex supported Bombardier
- Adequate resources should be secured for training, meetings, and the creation of complementary communication channels. Money from the union’s own resources + the employer
- We also need to convince employers that good training of EWC members is beneficial to the employer. There are labor funds that are misused. Similarly, show employees benefits from the functioning of the EWC.
- Speaking the language of benefits is the role of EWC members
- Conclusion from the recent ETUI conference on EWC: another amendment of the EWC Directive is needed, new topics – digitization, European green deal (these threads are not included in the Agreement), to better regulate the topic of confidentiality