EU recovery plan: collective bargaining must play a central role to deliver ambition

Friday 29 May 2020

The European Commission has outlined its proposals for the recovery of the EU amid the COVID-19 crisis. A set of new plans were presented including the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (€1.1 trillion), specific recovery investment funds under the heading of Next Generation EU (€750 billion, including €500 billion in grants) and the adjusted Commission Work Programme for 2020.

“This crisis has shown us what is possible: in a period of intense market contractions, corporations have been still able to provide extra pay to workers. As working people get the economy back on its feet, the EU recovery plan must ensure they are safe and that they have a strong collective voice to bring about a new normal in which they get a fair share of the wealth they create,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.

What’s missing:

While the plan steps up ambition, there is one crucial element missing. Unions have been urging the European Commission to do what it can to step up health and safety provisions but this key element has not been included. UNI Europa launched the initiative by the European trade union movement, for the European Commission to Recognise COVID-19 as an occupational disease and bring in new safety measures for those essential workers working through the crisis. This has still not happened.

“Governments rightly brought in sweeping lockdown measures to ensure the safety of working people and their families. As workplaces begin to open again, it is necessary too that the EU to step up safety provisions in those workplaces. While the European trade union movement has provided multiple options to the Commission, each one has had an inadequate response” explained Oliver Roethig.

Furthermore, UNI Europa has been calling for grants that are targeted at business to be conditional on the full application of workers’ collective bargaining rights. While much of the grants and loans will be to member states, many of them will ultimately be destined to businesses and they should be conditional on collective bargaining. Beyond grants, public procurement should also require that workers delivering the services be covered collective bargaining agreements.

“There is a very real choice here: do we accept a return to the old business as usual, in which inequalities continue to advance and aggressive anti-worker corporations are allowed to undermine the European social model? Or do we build better and stronger by buttressing those companies in which workers have a say?” said Oliver Roethig.

The positives:

Among the positive aspects of the announcements is the inclusion of Pay Transparency legislation. Trade unions acted swiftly following a document leaked last month which suggested that progress towards a Directive on the issue was set to be put on hold. UNI Europa, together with a number of national affiliates, reached out to European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, as well as to European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen on the matter.

The services sector is set to play a central role, given the welcome focus on a recovery that integrates the digital and green just transitions. The specific action for digital upskilling and fair living wages is welcome but these will need trade union involvement to ensure they are delivered in the interest of working people. In addition, initiatives on platform work and rethinking competition rules have been maintained and will continue to be a key focus for UNI Europa. Furthermore, new mechanisms for the EU to raise its own resources will be rolled out in order to minimise the burden on individual countries.

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