Oliver Roethig 📣 Germany’s presidency of the EU Council must work to strengthen collective bargaining

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Germany has recently taken up the presidency of the EU Council. In this context, a joint workshop was organised on 16 September 2020 by the German Presidency, together with the ETUC and the DGB. Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, spoke on behalf of service sector workers (full text below). His speech was introduced by a short video highlighting three cases in which companies were using the crisis to undermine collective bargaining.

Oliver Roethig’s speech:

Good morning colleagues. It is a pleasure to be here. Strengthening collective bargaining is key, not only during the Covid-19 crisis.

I will start with one concrete example of what needs to be remedied regarding collective bargaining in Europe. Then I will look at more general challenges and conclude with the positive role of sectoral social dialogue.

The example is Amazon. It has a pervasive and negative effect on collective bargaining in ever more sectors, especially in services. Last month, Amazon advertised for intelligence analysts with IT skills and multilingual. Their role: to spy on trade unions as well as on terrorists and hostile state actors. Public authorities must put a stop to this US-type union busting strategies. That’s a matter of democracy.

A matter of market failure is Amazon’s predatory policy, not relying on profits. The result is downward pressure on wages and working conditions with impact on taxes and social security systems. The result is both small companies and big ones going out off business. Being in Germany, look at the fight of our German member ver.di to save thousands of jobs in Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof, the department store chain. The EU must put a stop to Amazon exploiting its market power and loopholes in competition law.

Amazon is a direct threat to collective bargaining. It pushes the boundaries of the law to avoid unions. It picks the cheapest sectoral collective agreement while making use of subcontractors and bogus self-employed. Amazon must be forced to play fair. Through politics, the law and moral persuasion. This requires social partners, governments and civil society working together. That is a matter of Social Europe.

Moving on to the general challenge: The continuous drop in coverage of collective bargaining in Europe. This is not simply a problem for workers. The OECD last year set out the advantages of sectoral collective bargaining:

  • lowering inequality,
  • more resilience of an economy and labour market,
  • higher adaptability to a changing world of work.
    • Trade unions and social partners cannot do the necessary alone. It is a task for everyone. And in particular, we need the proper legal and political framework.
    • A first step is changing the EU’s public procurement directive so that contractors are only given to companies that abide by sectoral collective agreements. With political will, this is an easy fix with big impact. Moreover, it helps precarious workers. Those essential workers in care, shops, cleaning who have kept our societies going during the Covid-19 crisis. Let’s not just clap but improve their situation and that of all precarious workers.

Second, we need to enshrine access rights for trade unions to workplaces. This is a prerequisite for strong social partners and social dialogue. We need a legislative initiative plus political pressure on governments and companies to this end. This is particularly important in Central and Eastern Europe.

Third, our labour law is geared towards protecting workers in standard employment. We need the same protection for all the other workers. In the first place, this means the self-employed workers whether working through platforms or the old-fashioned way. We want an unequivocal rule that self-employed have the right to collective bargaining and trade union protection.

With European sectoral social dialogue, we have a powerful European tool for building a more social Europe. For strengthening both social dialogue and collective bargaining at all levels. As President von der Leyen says: trade unions and employers’ organisation are best placed to address the challenges faced in the labour market and in various industries. Not only that, but they can do so directly and fast, especially with looming digitalisation. A prove in point is the many joint statements sectoral social dialogue have concluded on the Covid-19 crisis

First, here, we need the EU Commission upgrading and emphasising more sectoral social dialogue at European level. It is not a side issue and needs more resources. We need more engagement so that the potential for sectoral social dialogue is used to formulate good EU policies.

Second, sectoral social partners work together. Without mentioning an example, obviously, if we engage jointly with companies or the two sides of industry in a country we can and do help resolving conflict. The EU should encourage this.

Finally, as sectoral social partners, we have a tradition of jointly pushing for capacity building of social partners – again especially in Central and Eastern Europe. What is missing is proper EU financing and allowing the social partners their job. Doing that will help that collective bargaining and social dialogue can play their beneficial role in achieving prosperous economies and labour markets in that region and everywhere in Europe.

Collective bargaining is not an issue for unions, nor for the social partners alone. It is an issue for all. Indeed, it is a bedrock for democracy and against populism.

Contact