Multinational corporations are using the crisis to shut workers out

Wednesday 22 July 2020

In the uncertainty of the crisis, too many multinational corporations are making moves to undermine workers’ information and consultation rights. The full involvement of workers and their unions in shaping company decisions through the crisis is essential to reaching a new normal of social justice. Many jobs are on the line.

The EU’s role: pulling its head out of the sand

“Everybody knows that when a storm is coming, you don’t leave the windows open. Right now there is an economic storm coming and so far those holding the keys are leaving working people exposed. We cannot have a situation in which shareholders and their corporations are protected while working people and their unions are left to pick up the pieces. ‘Stronger together’ is the motto of the European Commission leadership. It is time  to turn these words into action,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.

Under certain conditions, EU laws require  that corporations active in different member states, establish European Works Councils. These are structures that bring management together with worker representatives from the different countries to regularly and in good time inform and consult them on decisions of relevance to the workers.

Since the beginning of the crisis, reports of managements undermining or derailing these structures have dramatically increased. Unions are particularly alarmed at this situation considering that a number of corporations have – at the same time – begun restructuring processes, with major waves of redundancies unilaterally announced by management.

Together with other European trade union federations and the ETUC, UNI Europa has called on EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit (responsible for Jobs and Social Rights) to take swift action to ensure that workers’ information and consultations rights are respected by corporations. The reaction has been lacklustre and insufficient to tackle the grave situation.

“It is a fact of life that managements act on behalf of share-holder interests first. What is not acceptable is that for too many corporations maintaining jobs, both in terms of quantity or quality, is clearly not a priority. European Works Councils are set up to help rebalance this skewed approach and require that workers and their union representatives have a foot in the door. These are essential now that jobs are on the line. Yet those corporations are dodging their responsibilities while the Commission too hands over responsibility to the courts and Member States. What we need is serious enforcement of working people’s rights,” said Oliver Roethig.

What European Works Councils can do

There is a clear need, legal role and practical precedent on European Works Councils playing an active role in corporate restructuring. Together with other trade union organisations, UNI Europa has put together a number of resources for worker representatives on European Works Councils. It put together a manual on transnational restructuring processes. Two webinars on how to best approach restructuring, specifically aimed at European Works Council worker representatives, are planned for 30 September and 1 October 2020 (more information here).

Other relevant resources are the two sets of recommendations for worker representative on European Works Councils in the Covid-19 crisis as well as an associated webinar.