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“Cooperation between trade unions: What will the future look like?”


Tivat, 30 October 2015 - Cooperation between trade unions in general is not evident. Having different historical backgrounds, different principles and different values can make it quite complicated to sit on the negotiating-table together. Very often they have different interests and Power-play is always luring. This is no different when looking at the level of federations or sectors. Here too the same mechanism play. But how can this be overcome? This was the topic of a two-day seminar held in Tivat, Montenegro from 01 – 02 October.

Titled “In what way can cooperation between trade unions in the banking sector belonging to the same financial group be improved?”, experts and trade-union leaders discussed the difficulties and possible solutions to come to a closer cooperation. Organized by the World Organization of Workers (WOW), KRIFA and SS BOFOS in cooperation with the European Organization for Workers’ Questions (EZA) and supported by the European Commission the seminar was visited by 25 participants from eight different EU Member States and Candidate Member States, predominantly from the so-called Western Balkan. The seminar was part of the Special project for Western Balkan countries which EZA initiated three years ago The idea is to incorporate unions from these countries more into the EU and, consequentially, EZA.

Speakers from different sides of the spectrum as well as different countries presented their vision and ideas. The input from the variety of speakers showed vast differences between countries and their level of cooperation.

Mrs. Prof. Gordana Gasmi spoke about the European Social Model. Quite often one can read in the media that this social model is dead. Certainly, the past years there has been a lot of pressure on the model as a result of the crisis. Solidarity between the Member States is becoming less and often national policies are dividing the countries. Mrs. Gasmi stated that”If a society is not able to save the small people it can also not help the rich’. By this she meant that we need to counter difficulties together and not have the ‘small’ people be the ones paying the price. The concept of social security is captured in EU directives, but on national level the implementation is lacking in many countries. Job-security does no longer exist, which becomes clear when looking at the vast variety of contracts these days. Real harmonization of EU policy is not existing. All the countries within the EU still look after themselves most.

Mr. Günter Benischek gave a detailed description of the working of the Works Council of the Erste Bank. He too mentioned the lack of solidarity. He also focused on the difficulties between the Works Councils in the countries where Erste Bank is active. The culture of management is often very different which also affects the work of the European Works Couuncil of Erste Bank. Of course they also learn a lot from each by sitting on the table together, but one cannot say that it is really one structure.

On the other hand, Mrs. Jasna Pipunić described the situation in the Works Council of the MOL-Group as very good. Of course there is always room for improvement, but in general the Works Council of the MOL-Group works very well and they have a lot of good experiences and constructive talks.  She stressed the importance of both trade unions and Works Councils. Only through these bodies the rights of the workers can be respected. Without them nothing can be achieved and no steps forward will be made.

Mrs. Olga Kićanović further stressed the importance of trade unions. Their role should be, aside negotiating CLA’s etc., the restoration of dignity. Trade unions are also there to apply the rules of law. And in-time information and consultation are pivotal. The presentation, despite also pointing at the serious and difficult role of the trade unions, in fact focused more on the positive and constructive role of the unions. Work is an important part of life and having a job which gives fulfilment is essential for the well-being of people. This should be stressed more by trade unions, but even more so by the employers. One hardly ever hears employers celebrate success with their employees. This would give an important incentive and is something trade unions should raise awareness about to employers. It would give a general feeling of positivity and binds both the employers and the employees. Together they are the source of success.

The final contribution of the day came for Mr. George Arvanitis. His main focus was on the austerity measures for Greece, which in his opinion, were not only destroying Greece, but also Europe and its values. It is fair to say that these measures are putting a lot of pressure on the fundaments of a social Europe and its Social Model. Reforms are not just the reduction of staff. It is more than that. Within the banking-sector there are good legal frameworks to discuss with the management. Within the NBG, however, a European Works Council does not yet exist. To Mr. Arvanitis the example from the Erste Bank was a good way to also organize this for the NBG.

The first speaker of the second day was Mrs. Ike Wiersinga. She spoke of the Dutch social dialogue which is quite well-developed. Today, in the Netherlands, there are more and more initiatives to come to an agreement through so-called co-creation. This is a kind of cooperation in which all the participants are able to influence the process and the result. The characteristics are dialogue, curiosity, common ground, enthusiasm, decisiveness and result as focal point. The conditions for success are equality of participants, reciprocity, transparency and trust by a structured and creative process. This form of dialogue demands a lot of trust. It is still in its infancy and very often the stakeholders return to old practices, but gradually steps are made to make it a success.

The final speaker of the seminar was again Mrs. Prof. Gordana Gasmi. Her presentation on European standards clearly showed a lack of harmonization in many fields. One of these was, for instance, the lack of harmonization in working-hours. Though there are directives, there is a problem with the implementation in many countries. In countries where the unemployment is very high, the working-time directives seem less respected. It is jobs first and then the rest!

What became clear from the working groups was that there is still a lack of cooperation between trade unions, but also between Works Councils in different countries but belonging to one group. There is regulation but this is not obligatory e.g. when more than fifty employees a company can form a Works Council. Furthermore there are no national agreements regarding working-conditions (CLA’s). Everything is organized per company and not per branch. This makes branch-wide cooperation quite complicated.

It can be concluded that there is still a lot to win in most countries in the Western Balkan. Croatia can be regarded as most advanced, but other countries are still far from achieving structures such as a European Works Council let alone one at national level.

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