New Years message from Regional Secretary, Oliver Roethig

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Dear Colleagues,

With the EU’s adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights, trade unions succeeded to put labour and social rights firmly back on the agenda.

Our aim for 2018 is to push the EU and national governments to make the Social Pillar a reality. We want the EU and national governments to make concrete steps towards substantially strengthening the rights and well-being of workers. We want to stop labour and social issues being sidelined in favour of business interests.

Key to this endeavour is reinforcing and expanding collective bargaining, especially at the sectoral level. We will push for EU and government policies that do not hinder, but foster, collective bargaining. As trade unions, we will focus on enhancing collective bargaining power, in all countries and sectors, irrespective of our current presence there.

With COZZ (the Central European Organising Centre), we started to strengthen union power in Poland in 2016. We now have extended these activities to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One key point for us is that West European multinational companies cannot undermine sectoral collective bargaining in Central and Eastern Europe.

In Romania, our affiliates have made major progress: to the extent that we are expecting the introduction of sectoral bargaining in a number of our sectors. Considering the adverse legal and political conditions for unions and collective bargaining in Romania, this provides an example for all us. If it works in Romania than we can succeed everywhere in Europe.

How to organise working time through collective bargaining policy is a key topic for 2018 and indeed leading up to the UNI Europa Conference in 2020. On 10th-11th September 2018, we will hold a conference with the aim of bringing the experiences of our unions together to map out common solutions.

Our project “Shaping industrial relations in a digitalising services economy” is in its final year. The project conference takes place on 15th-16th May 2018, and brings together the results of our workshops regarding three broad themes: labour markets, services markets, and work organisation and business models. In the second half of the year, we will hold two further reflection meetings to discuss the results of the project with our social partners and the academic world. The outcome will serve as a building block for establishing UNI Europa’s political platform on the future of services and collective bargaining in our sectors.

2018 also brings to the close our project on trade union alliances: “The challenges of the digitalisation in the services industry”. We have been organising meetings of alliances in 24 multinationals to support organising and collective bargaining by our unions throughout a company and across borders. The final conference is planned for the autumn.

Trade unions face many challenges in Europe and citizens, as well as many workers, question the benefit the EU brings them. Unfortunately, the EU Commission and the member states foster this feeling. Just look at the European Pillar of Social Rights – it is merely a declaratory statement resurrecting rights that have simply been sidelined in EU policies.

Too often EU rules challenge and undermine workers’ interests at European and national level, rights we fought for for more than 100 years. An example of this is when last year the EU recommended that air traffic controllers’ right to strike should be limited. What is more, the EU Commission still tries to take away rights of European social partners as co-legislators.

Yet, this does not mean that the answer is “no Europe”, because “no Europe” means that multinational companies have even more free reign to run amok and the negative impact of globalisation continues to be unchecked. We simply need a different Europe. Trade unions, together with civil society, need to redouble our efforts to move the EU and the single market from serving big business and put the wellbeing of workers and citizens first.

Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary