Federations agree next steps on trade union rights

Conference photo

Meeting in Skopje in North Macedonia on 22 September, public service trade unions from across Europe agreed to continue to work together to defend and strengthen trade union rights for employees, civil servants and all uniformed staff, from firefighters and health workers to police and military personnel.

Over 80 participants joined the conference  and agreed a document on the next steps, setting out the kinds of actions which the federations and their affiliates could take to tackle the challenges they face in promoting trade union rights in the public services. This was the final event of the joint trade union rights project organised by EPSU along with the European federations for police and military personnel, EuroCOP and EUROMIL. The 80 participants represented 49 different affiliates from the three federations, coming from 24 countries.

Delegates were welcomed by EPSU general secretary, Jan Willem Goudriaan (online) and the presidents of EuroCOP and EUROMIL – Calum Steele and Emmanuel Jakob. All three underlined the value of working together to defend and improve trade union rights and the importance of building on the good co-operation generated by the project. Two heads of North Macedonian trade union federations – Darko Dimovski from SSM and Blagoja Ralpovski from KSS – added their greetings, outlining some of the challenges their member unions face, particularly in relation to collective bargaining across the public sector.

Delegates were also able to hear from Artem Tidva of EPSU (online) who provided an update on the situation in Ukraine and the work that he has been doing in recent months both to support people affected by the war but also to work with trade unions on strengthening their organisations.

Union rights in the public services - the state of play

The first session of the conference was introduced by Alexander de Becker and Lissa Nissen of the University of Ghent who had been contracted as part of the project to provide an overview on the situation across the European Union in relation to the rights to organise, negotiate and take collective action across the public services. Their presentation outlined the extent to which three main categories of workers – civil servants, police and military staff – were able to exercise these rights, focusing on five countries – Hungary, Romania, Ireland, Malta and Portugal – which the three federations had identified as key case studies.

The presentation also outlined the main international avenues available to trade unions to challenge any curbs or bans on their rights, including the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) of the Council of Europe. This was taken up in more detail by Henrik Christensen of the ECSR whose presentation explained how the committee worked, the key elements of the European Charter of Social Rights and some of the cases that the committee was dealing with. Henrik welcomed the joint report that had been submitted to the ECSR by the three federations and urged them to continue to develop their relationship with the committee.

Collective bargaining rights - the Adequate Minimum Wages Directive

The conference was then joined online by Lorenzo Repetti, senior advisor at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and Diana Crumpana of the Social Dialogue Unit in the European Commission directorate of Employment and Social Affairs. Lorenzo's presentation focused on the collective bargaining elements in the Adequate Minimum Wages Directive which was expected to become law before the end of the year. He explained how the directive provided new rights across the European Union in both public and private sectors could help trade unions protect, strengthen and extend collective bargaining. He added that trade unions in countries where collective bargaining coverage was below 80% of all employees, would have the additional right to contribute to and benefit from national plans to promote collective bargaining that would have to be drafted by national governments.

Strengthening European social dialogue?

Diana Crumpana joined Nadja Salson of EPSU in an exchange on developments in the European social dialogue at both sector and cross-sector levels. Diana outlined the consultation process that was aimed, among other things, at clarifying the rules applying to social partner agreements and resolve issues that EPSU had raised in its legal action against the Commission. However, Nadja expressed the concerns of trade unions that the outcome of the process was being delayed, with a communication from the Commission not expected now until early 2023. There were further question marks about the Commission’s approach to social dialogue and whether the vocal support being given to the consultation process was being matched by its financial commitment.

Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive

The afternoon of the conference began with the showing of two videos that had been produced during the project. The first covered the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive and underlined the concerns of the three federations about the possibility that Member States might use the directive’s exclusion clause to deny important rights to a broad group of public service workers. Early indications were that both Estonia and Italy had taken advantage of the clause in some way. The second video included contributions from Henrik Christensen and Stefan Clauwaert, senior advisor on labour and human rights at the ETUC and concerned the three federations’ joint report to the ECSR and the importance and value of trade unions raising cases with the Committee.

Conference participants were then divided up into working groups to discuss a range of questions about union rights at both national and European levels. In the end the focus of the exchanges in all three groups was on the various ways that affiliates from all three federations had managed to campaign and mobilise to try to defend or extend their rights.

The next steps

The final session of the conference debated how the three federations and their national affiliates could continue their work on trade union rights and a document on the next steps was adopted. It includes several proposals and recommendations for how national affiliates and the federations can co-operate in relation to addressing specific attacks on trade union rights at national level and ensuring that all public service workers can benefit from the provisions of EU social legislation. The implementation of the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive will be followed closely, with challenges planned to those governments that use the exclusion clause to deny important new rights to public service workers.