Adecco: does the leading “HR solutions” corporation see social dialogue as anything more than a PR exercise?

Wednesday 24 March 2021

Since 2014, the year when the Jacobs family pulled out of Adecco, the workers have been denouncing that the Adecco Group has increasingly steered towards a short-termist management approach. According to its workers, Adecco moved from being run as a family company to a management focused almost exclusively on returns to investors, disregarding a frenetic pace of work, the mental health of its employees, and the social dialogue instances where these matters are to be discussed.

The Adecco European Works Council (AEWC) has been warning the company about the situation for years. In a 2017 Declaration, the employee representatives stated that the pressure to meet very ambitious and unilaterally imposed budgetary goals was leading to “a significant increase in the levels of work-related stress” while recalling that the budget targets must be considered a performance goal rather than a minimum production standard. Workers urged management to put concrete actions and organisational protocols in place, but according to Laszlo Spiller, the AEWC Secretary, the company’s response has been far from positive: “they blocked for 6 months the approval of the minutes of that meeting and asked to remove any reference to the document which we have voted. Then we discovered they had recorded our plenary meeting, without any explicit permission requested of the EWC members. This was a shock for many of us.”

Unfortunately, the issue of a healthy workplace has not been the only matter where social dialogue has been disregarded by central management. Already in 2016, the AEWC raised a declaration about the ‘Great Place to Work’ internal campaign, during which the Adecco Group branded certain employees as ‘ambassadors’ and assigned them a supposed representativeness; the AEWC had to remind management that only workers could designate their representatives.

In fact, these cases appear to be part of a broader stance by the Adecco Group’s management of actively disregarding a real social dialogue and its information and consultation duties towards the European Works Council. Since 2018, the workers representatives have raised their concern over several cases in which the company failed to inform and consult the AEWC about collective redundancies in different countries of Europe. The lack of compliance by management to the Adecco Group EWC’s agreement forced the workers’ representatives to go to court: the AEWC raised two complaints to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) in the United Kingdom denouncing the failure by the Adecco Group to inform and consult in 4 cases of collective transnational redundancies in 2020, and to provide detailed country by country financial information.

The CAC’s ruling in favour of the AEWC made the Adecco Groups’ breach of their agreement explicit and shows the management’s disregard for this very important instance of social dialogue. The workers’ representatives welcomed the CAC’s decision, and has urged management to rethink its internal HR strategy and industrial relations practices. According to Domenico Colapinto, EWC Chair of the Adecco European Employee Representatives, “the decision of the UK Court demonstrates that a constructive social dialogue should not be a mere formality of acknowledgment of final decisions, but an integral part of the decision-making process where the worker representatives can influence the decision with a reasoned opinion.”

Unfortunately, these two cases are not isolated. Several similar cases appear to surface in Eastern European where local management has been pursuing hidden collective dismissals by going individually to the workers and offering 2 alternative documents: one with a dismissal by mutual agreement and another one a unilateral notice letter by the company.

The situation in France is particularly dire. The revelation, on 18 February 2021, of a ‘blacklist’ of 114 employees to be dismissed during 2020 and 2021, effectively a hidden redundancy plan, came as a cold shower for workers in the midst of the COVID crisis. According to a recent study 62% of the workers in Adecco France declare suffering from work related stress.

“This negligence towards social dialogue is the exact opposite of what is needed in such a demanding context. The pandemic has proven that social dialogue builds resilience and collective bargaining protects worker’ physical and mental health and security. Adecco cannot simply ignore its European Workers Council and must renew its commitment to national and European social dialogue instances,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.

Laetitia Gomez, CGT union delegate for Adecco and member of the AEWC says “Adecco wants to remain the leader in temporary work in Europe and for this, the company must establish a quality social dialogue in France and in each country in which it is established. Adecco’s European Works Council is not a mere rubber-stamping instance but an active body which must function properly.”

The current situation can potentially inflict a serious reputational damage on the Adecco Group. The website of the supposed world’s biggest Human Resources Solutions Provider says “it aims to build a better world of work for all,” but workers in Europe recognise that Central Management doesn’t walk the talk.

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