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Smart meters: consider employment consequences say unions and employers

(15 December 2010) The introduction of smart meters to measure electricity consumption for households has been discussed several times in the electricity social dialogue committee. EPSU presented a survey which indicated a number of the employment related issues around smart meters.

Following further discussion a joint position was agreed between the trade unions and EURELECTRIC. Some of the main points of the agreement are:
- When a cost- benefit analysis is done to determine the added value of introducing smart meters the unions and employers agree that Member States should involve all stakeholders including the unions and employers.
- The analysis should explore the effects on employment.
- The roll-out of smart meters requires careful planning, implementation and monitoring. The unions and employers agree that the workers concerned (including third parties) have the adequate training and skills. This will minimize the risk of accidents and assure the safety of both workers and customers.
- Third parties should be appropriately vetted for competence and compliance including with health and safety standards to ensure that no accidents occur and health and safety of consumers and workers is ensured.

The third European energy package on liberalization of the electricity and gas markets foresees the roll-out of smart meters to 80% of households by 2020. Member States might do a cost-benefit analysis. There are broader concerns of unions, consumers and anti-poverty campaigners around privacy, data protection and preventing that smart meters are introduced at the expense of vulnerable users or customers in general. These are addressed in EPSU positions and other forums

Another main theme of the social dialogue committee was a discussion on the emerging skills gaps and the importance of anticipating the changes in the sector and ensuring workers have the skills and qualifications of tomorrow’s electricity sector. A union proposal to do a survey of training providers and other institutions was considered and will be further discussed. The future development of the sector was the topic of a joint social partners conference on climate change and just transition. The social partners considered the follow up and agreed to develop the recommendations which are part of the final study. The social partners will also suggest to their members to consider the report and what actions might be worthwhile to take at national level.

Other issues:
- The social partners have on several occasions argued that the social partners should be involved in the impact assessments. Livia Vasakova, DG Energy, presented the impact assessment processes for the energy sector also referring to the Roadmaps as the starting point of these discussion.
- The discussion was continued with DG Energy representative Kilian Gross. He gave an overview of the Commission Energy Work programme. The social partners will consider which issues they want to follow up. They also agreed to consider the different flagships such as the Agenda on Skills and Jobs, the Single Market Act and Industrial Policy and their relevance for the energy sector.
- Finally the social partners agreed to urge the countries of the Energy Community to consider the outcome of the study on the Employment Effects of Opening up the electricity and gas markets in the Western Balkans and address the outcome with the social partners. The study underlines that with the opening up of the markets and the push towards efficiency, there is a high risk of job losses. The European electricity social partners will advocate the use of the Toolkit on Restructuring to address these changes. A key element is a structured social dialogue.

The EPSU delegation consisted of colleagues from ECHO (CZ), Verdi (DE), FLAEI (IT) CGT-FNME (FR), Gazelco (BE), SINDEL (PT), Unison (UK), SEKO (SV), Univers (Roumania), and EPSU Deputy General Secretary.

The meeting took place on 14 December 2011, Brussels. Next meetings will be on 4 March, 29 June, 30 September and 6 December 2011.