The economic decline and lockdowns due to Covid-19 throughout the European Union have not only seen a shift to remote work and online activities but also an increase in the number of hostile takeovers, mergers and acquisitions. Thus, services sectors have been under-going dramatic changes at both the workplace and sectoral level.
To advance unions’ understanding of these on-going developments and learn from best practices, UNI Europa’s cross-sectoral project on services (VS/2018/0353) had organised a first workshop on these topics in Dublin shortly before Europe went into lockdown in February 2020. Since then, UNI Europa has published its research report on how companies and sectors are using new digital technologies to restructure work processes. For the follow-up webinar organised on 19 March 2021, UNI Europa specifically wanted to highlight union responses that have expanded their ability to defend workers’ rights and conditions, expanded unions’ sectoral bargaining power and built union power at the European level.
Mark Bergfeld, Director of Property Services & UNI CARE, presented some of the transnational challenges that unions face to ensure workers’ rights and conditions. In particular, he highlighted how some sectors were continuing to grow in terms of employment while others were seeing a steady drop and how Private Equity Groups were moving into buy companies up cheaply. He also outlined how European Works Councils could be used to both respond transnationally and build union alliances.
Michael Budolfsen from the Danish finance union Finansforbundet and UNI Europa Finance President presented how his union has sought to meet the challenge of Fintech. In his presentation, he highlighted the role that his union played in launching the Copenhagen Fintech Lab, which has acted as an incubator for new Fintech companies. It is well-known that the work culture of start-ups and Fintech companies, in particular, poses a challenge for workers’ rights and unions. Through playing a central role in regional economic development Finansforbundet has been able to embed itself institutionally in the Fintech sector.
Another prescient example came from the Financial Services Union (FSU) in Ireland which have run a two-track strategy of defending their members’ terms and conditions in the declining finance sector and at the same time venturing out and organizing new groups of workers. In doing so, the union has organised computer games developers – organised under the banner of Game Workers Unite – as well as animators. This underlines that tech worker organizing is not only taking place in the North America but is of increasing importance to the services economy in Europe. Amy Moran, an organiser working in the field, reported on how they have been surveying workers and have put forward demands to change the face of a growing services sector.
The last example of the webinar came from the Private Security sector. Toward the end of 2019, the Private Equity-owned GardaWorld as well as Allied Universal declared their intention to buy the British private security company G4S, with whom UNI Global Union has a long-standing EWC and Global Framework Agreement. David Gigg, from the GMB union and chair of the G4S European Works Council gave a behind-the-scenes look into how UNI Europa and the EWC used the trade union alliance and worked together to meet this challenge and make workers’ voices heard during the bidding process.
A written summary of the workshop will be published in the coming weeks. In the meantime, UNI affiliates can request the PowerPoint presentations.