This week our Executive Committee had an extensive discussion on the social dialogue and the role of the European Commission. The Initiative on Social Dialogue and the Recommendation to the Council on strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining at national level were welcomed. However – there’s a cloud in every silver lining.
- The Commission has intentionally destroyed the criteria and processes to bring social partner agreements to the Council for a decision. This is the famous article 155.2 process of the Treaty. It blocked the agreement of EPSU and the employers in Central government administrations from moving forwards. EPSU brought the Commission to Court (2018), where the Commission realised it could only win the case by arguing that 25 years of practice of the social dialogue and all its Communications on social dialogue was irrelevant to its right of discretion. In other words – for it to judge if agreements can become ergo omnes through a directive, based on the political whims of the day. And indeed it did. We had therefore expected that the Commission would come with a clear process and transparent criteria in its recent Communication. It did not.
- And the lack of clarity is showing. The recent agreement on digitalisation in central government administration was signed on 6 October 2022 and is held up by the Commission. There are no criteria for this decision, only its judgement that it is expedient to do so, trampling on workers, the unions and the employers - the ministers responsible for central government workers’ pay and conditions.
- The European Commission has proposed to outsource the organisation of the social dialogue. The European trade unions and the employers’ organisations have jointly rejected this proposal. Still, the Commission continues with its plans to outsource. Employers and unions see this as undermining the sectoral social dialogue and the Commission’s institutional responsibility. We see it as part of a strategy of the Commission to reduce its support for the sectoral social dialogue. It has already cut back on resources for support and is handling the administration in a way to frustrate many.
- The Commission has delayed the approval to establish a sectoral social dialogue committee for over two years. This is despite a request of the social partners which recognise each other. This is unacceptable.
- The internal dialogue in the European Commission does not go very well. USF, the trade union organising Commission staff informed us that rules and policies impacting employees’ working conditions are implemented without consultation of the formal intermediary bodies (trade unions and Staff Committee). The Commission is bypassing this organised consultation via staff surveys. The Commission can then pick and choose the solutions that best fit its agenda. The Commission has put forward a proposal that would limit the right of the unions to communicate with staff. In another example of this behaviour, the Commission recently assumed the right to decide whether its staff can strike or not. They argue that solidarity strike action is forbidden.
The European Commission is seeking to become party to the European Convention on Human Rights, something prescribed by the Treaties. The European Parliament has stressed that the Commission should become party to the Convention and the European Social Charter. We would welcome this for many reasons, including to make clear to many political parties where the EU and Member States stand - as politicians on the right and extreme-right argue that their country should withdraw so their country can join other human rights violators like Belarus and Russia.
At our Executive Committee we heard from a representative of the European Committee on Social Rights of the many violations of trade union rights - such as article 6.4 on the right to strike. The European Commission should be aware that it is likely in breach as well. Our message to the Commission: practice what you preach and be a guiding star, not a black hole.