Negotiations start in Suez: employment policy main issue of first meeting

(24 August 2006) The Bureau of the European Works Council of Suez and the French Trade unions have started negotiations with management to define a social policy for the company which will also ensure more guaranties for workers and should improve information and consultation rights. A series of meeting has been agreed with management.

The first meeting (21/8) started with a discussion on a document presented by management regarding employment policy and taking account of future developments linked to the strategy of the company. Core of this discussion is to be able to link professional mobility of workers to the development of the company. It is imperative for the workers that they know how the company will evolve, where investments will be made. Those jobs and functions that require special attention as they will disappear in the future need to be defined. Management is reluctant to provide all information including middle and long term investment plans regarding the future strategic development of the company.

The second issue was to improve information and consultation rights especially in the case of cessation of activities. This includes also when Suez or if approved, in the future Suez-Gas de France want to divest certain activities. We want to be informed about important strategic decisions and change of strategy and have the time to reflect on these and prepare alternatives before they are implemented.

The next meeting will be 6 September.

The union group has made a list of issues that should be covered in the negotiations these include:

- Improve information and consultation rights especially with regard to sell-offs. The EWC should be able to give an opinion and be able to explore alternatives and hence needs the time to do this; this is linked to a revision of the present agreement of the EWC. Other issues of concern include improving the resources available for the operation of the EWC.

- Trade unions should have more resources to do ther job effectively. Compared to the tasks, the resources available at the central level are meagre.

- Employment policy. French companies have to prepare employment policies that take account of future trends and which detail the measures companies will take to address qualification, professional mobility etc. This is the translation of promises into reality.

- Common principles for pay and conditions for example favouring low wage earners should be in place in the whole group

- Social policy measures and other agreements should be applicable for the whole group.

- If politicians have decided the law to merge Gas de France and Suez and if the merger is approved by the shareholders, discussion will be needed on workers representation and the trade union presence in French Comite de Groupe, in EWC as well as the Board of the company. These discussions will take place in January 2007. This needs a transitional agreement to ensure that the current structures will remain functioning and to allow for the time necessary to agree the new structures together with colleagues of Gas de France.

The background to these negotiations is also the proposed merger with Gas de France. The European Commission has sent the companies a 200 page document detailing where it sees problems. As expected these problems are foreseen in the Belgian electricity and gas market, in the French gas market and in the French heating market. This document is said to be confidential. The Commission has given no recommendations which assets should be divested by the companies to answer the competition concerns of the Commission. The experts assisting the Suez EWC will discuss the issues with management.

EPSU was represented by the Deputy General Secretary, 21 August 2006, Paris.

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