Thursday, January 25, 2007

Flexicurity och krossad arbetsrätt i EU - Del 2

GUE/NGL hearing on the COM Green Paper on Labour Law, 17 January 2007, European Parliament, Strasbourg, Room S 2.1

Det här är minnesanteckningar från mötet på grönboken som jag idag har fått i eposten. De har sammanfattat mina åsikter ganska väl, lite längre ner.

The hearing was introduced by interventions of GUE/NGL President Francis Wurtz MEP and by Roberto Musacchio MEP (see separate texts of their interventions).

On behalf of the European Commission, Mr. Paul Cullen (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities) gave a short presentation of the main contents of the Green Paper.

In the discussion the following invited guests from trade unions spoke:

Angel Jurado (CCOO metal sector, Spain), Marie France Boutroue (CGT, France), Piergiovanni Alleva (legal department CGIL, Italy), Augusto Praca (CGTP, Portugal), Patrick Renfors (Metalworkers Union, Sweden), Katharina Erdmenger (DGB Brussels liasion office, Germany), Cleanthes Cleantous (international department of the Cyprus General Trade Union Federation, Cyprus), Ivan Cinka (Construction Workers trade union, Poland?), Alain Obadia (CGT, Economic and Social Affairs Council of France, France), Paul van den Boom (FNV, Netherlands), Jean Francios Tamellini (FGTB metal workers, Belgium), Nicola Nicolosi (CGIL, Italy), Alekos Kalyvis (GSEE, Greece), Turo Bergmann (SAK, Finland).

The meeting was also attended by several MEP´s from PPE, PSE and Greens. From the GUE/NGL group, MEP Jiri Mastalka spoke in the debate, MEP Ilda Figueiredo provided some closing remarks.

The summary below tries to identify the main lines of the discussion. It is not a transcript of the statements of each of the persons who took the floor.

Summary of the Discussion

Mr. Paul Cullen from the European Commission informed the participants of the hearing that an informal Council meeting will have a first discussion on the Green Paper just a few days after the GUE/NGL's hearing in January in Berlin. The background of the issues addressed in the Green Paper is a huge gap between the traditional normative models for employment contracts (regular employment on a full time basis, high standard of social protection) and the existing reality of employment contracts today (part time work, temporary work, project work, self-employment, other forms of 'atypical employment', undeclared work etc.). The Commission intends to launch a broad debate on:

  • how to adapt legal provisions on employment contracts and labour law to ongoing structural change in labour markets;
  • how to guarantee minimum rights for employees and self-employed persons in that changing context;
  • how to tackle the issue of self-employment, which in reality often occurs under circumstances that the self-employed person is economically dependent on one client/employer and not truly an independent entrepreneur;
  • how to shape social and other protection for mobile workers;
  • how to ensure effective enforcement of labour law etc. vis a vis undeclared work.

He pointed out that the Commission addressed 14 key questions concerning the modernisation of labour law in the European Union (see text of Green Paper) and wishes to promote a process where Member States can learn from each other via exchanges of experience and best practice (instead of proposing single harmonised EU wide solutions). On the other hand, the Commission does not entirely rule out that on some of the issues addressed in the Green Paper it might look for solutions based on the Community method (legislation).

The Green Paper is embedded into the broader context of the EU debate on 'flexicurity'. The goal is to identify the possible contribution of modernising labour law to promote adaptability via flexicurity more generally. Amongst other issues Cullen highlighted also making employment transitions (e.g. from education and training to employment and vice versa, from employment to retirement etc.) more fluid and more easy to achieve as a priority concern for the Commission.

The first phase of the public consultation on the Green Paper is already under way and will end by 31 March 2007. By September or October 2007 the Commission intends to publish a follow up Communication on the Green Paper on Labour Law, building on the results of that public consultation.

In a parallel process, the Commission intends to adopt a Communication on Flexicurity Principles in summer 2007. It aims, on the basis of discussions currently proceeding within the Employment Committee (EMCO), with the social partners and an expert working group, to identify a set of common principles as a basis for agreement. It intends to set out a range of policy pathways towards greater flexicurity, taking into account the institutional set-up, economic situation and available financial resources across the EU-27. The subject matter - in terms of common principles - will be more closely related to the Open Method of Coordination and the context of the Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs than the kind of possible legislative proposals which are a possible means of acting to extend worker rights in some of the areas addressed in the Green Paper on Labour Law. The Council already started a debate on flexicurity principles on 1 December 2006 and will continue that debate during the German Presidency. The Green Paper on Labour Law and the Communication on Flexicurity Principles certainly do have links concerning their content and the issues addressed by them, but are to be regarded as separate processes.

Responses from the trade union representatives

The statements of the trade union representatives made crystal clear that trade unionists demand to follow a much different path of 'modernising labour law': to re-establish a norm of regular employment contracts with a high level of social protection, high standards of health and safety at work, a high degree of workers rights and participation, combating the current trends to involuntary part time work and precarious employment. Nicola Nicolosi (CGIL Italy) spelled out that the majority of Italian unions oppose the whole 'philosophy' of the Green Paper and are ready to mobilise within the European Trade Union Movement and Member States' governments for a different approach.

From that general perspective, the Green Paper was criticised for promoting only a very minimal protection of workers rights and principally individualised solutions on employment contracts. The approach of the Green Paper was criticised for not really combating the trend towards precarious employment. Jean Francois Tamellini (FGTB metal workers, Belgium) characterised the Green Paper's approach as misusing the concept of European minimum standards for harmonising to the bottom. As an alternative approach the trade unionists favoured solutions based on strengthened workers' rights and collective agreements. 'Flexicurity' was characterised as a neologism without any meaningful content, as in reality there is a strong promotion of flexibility in the interest of employers, but no parallel strengthening of security for workers.

Quite a number of interventions from trade unionists linked the debate on the Green Paper to experience with their respective national situation.

Marie France Boutrou (CGT, France) pointed out that the EU is far away from reaching its Lisbon target on the employment rate of 70 per cent. Under present conditions in France, highly qualified persons often are employed in jobs much below their level of qualification, and often earn wages only slightly above the statutory minimum wage. Subsidising non-wage labour costs in order to increase employment did not provide a way out to the lasting trend to ever more precarious employment. Under present conditions, only full time employment with a permanent contract provides adequate quality of work, social protection and sufficient contractual rights for workers. Therefore the EU should promote pathways to improve the individual and collective rights of workers as regards employment contracts, which should contribute to stable careers and high levels of social protection and financial participation.

Pergiovanni Alleva (CGIL Italy) insisted that in Italy precarious employment has become the norm in the labour market, which is also characterised by an increase in bogus self-employment and so called 'autonomous work'. For workers, there are no advantages from increased employer-friendly flexibility. Flexibility has led to a lowering of salaries, a decline of entitlements to holidays, social protection and pension entitlements, while increasing stress at work and uncertainty and unpredictability of employment. The flexicurity approach is based on these forms of forced flexibility, but instead of promoting more security it shifts the obligations for education, training and life long learning away from the employer to individual employees and the public purse. He pointed out that the approach of the centre-left government in Italy is to promote a re-regulation of labour markets, abolishing Berlusconis law No. 30 and reinstating stronger universal social protection and social cohesion. The centre-left in Italy advocates to contain and to revert the trend towards an expansion of ever more forms of 'atypical employment' and increasing segmentation of contractual models with very different degrees of workers rights and social protection.

In a similar intervention, Augusto Praca (CGTP, Portugal) reminded of the right to work, the right to protection against unfair dismissal and the obligation to promote policies for full employment and social cohesion which are contained in the Portuguese constitution to this day, but are more and more under attack from the political right. Portuguese trade unions fight for labour law and collective agreements based on these constitutional rights.

Patrik Renfors (Metalworkers Union, Sweden) stated that 80 per cent of the Swedish workforce is organised in trade unions, providing the basis for a strong model of regulating labour markets to a great extent by collective agreements. This approach of the Nordic labour market model must be defended against the approach of the Green Paper with its bias towards individual contracts with only a very minimal and segmented degree of protection. Also Erdmenger and others argued a strong case for regulation via collective agreements.

The latter criticism was supported by Cleanthes Cleantous (Cyprus), who pointed out that the labour market in Cyprus to this day is fortunately satisfactorily regulated along the norm of permanent contracts. The unions in Cyprus call on the unions within the EU to organise resistance against labour market flexibility and to promote pushing back atypical and precarious employment. Alekos Kalyvis (GSEE, Greece) reported about the attacks of the conservative Greek government on labour law and called for a collective reduction of working time and the inclusion of economically dependent self-employed person under full coverage social protection. Ivan Cinka (Czech Republic) reported about the new labour code in his country, which allows for more overtime and facilitates a 'hire and fire' policy of employers. The introduction of new models of working time flexibility in a number of companies has drastically undermined workers rights and protection, as it has become common practice to set working time at 'zero' (without pay for workers) during slumps and to decree massive overtime at the employers will during booms. Jean Francois Tamellini (FGTB metal workers, Belgium) reported about a similar situation in Belgium, where e.g. legislation has been altered concerning reference periods for measuring the average length of the working week due to pressure of large multinationals.

Paul Van den Boom (FNV, Netherlands) reported about the Dutch Flexicurity Act of 1999, which lowered the level of protection for regular employment while improving to some extent the protection of atypical employment (part time and temporary work). Experience since 1999 although has shown that flexicurity did not lead to a decrease of atypical forms of employment, as might have been expected. He stressed that lowered security for the 'insiders' (those with regular employment) does not lead to more opportunities for 'outsiders', be they unemployed or employed with atypical contracts. Neither did flexicurity and higher labour mobility lead to higher growth and more jobs.

Several trade union representatives also attacked some specific issues of the Green Paper. Katharina Erdmenger (DGB, Germany) insisted that the purpose of labour law is to protect and strengthen the position of the employee, as she or he is the weaker partner in an employment contract. To 'modernise' labour law as an instrument to boost growth and employment is an entirely untenable approach, because contract law serves a different purpose of protecting employees rights. Furthermore, as experience in many EU Member States and also a recent OECD study have demonstrated, a lowering of protection against lay offs does not lead to increased employment - a point that was also addressed by Tamellini. Erdmenger also criticised that the Green Paper mixes up the discussion on labour law with issues such as temporary work, the revision of the working time directive and the posting of workers, which currently are dealt with by other (mostly legislative) processes of their own kind.

Alain Obadia (CEES, France) argued against the positive assumptions of the Green Paper about job growth and more quality of employment via the IT-revolution. The reality of rationalisation driven by IT and also increasing financial market pressures (LBO´s, Private Equity Funds, Hedge Funds etc.) on the contrary lead to destabilising effects on employment and to the spread of precarious employment. He insisted on the need for more efficiency for Europe to work and proposed a system of "safety of employment and training" which would provide workers a job guarantee or a guarantee for training and re-training of their choice. Obadia and Angel Jurado (CCOO, Spain) addressed strongly the issues of restructuring and relocation and called for legislative action of the EU to tackle these. Concerning the contribution to higher employment, the way forward does not lead via labour law reforms, but in promoting industrial and macroeconomic policies for job creation.

Turo Bergmann (Left Party, Finland) asked about the consequences of 'applying the Community method': does the Commission intend to propose an EU Directive on labour law? If the flexicurity approach would really mean to improve security for workers, would the European Union go along to increase e.g. unemployment benefits and who would be willing to pay for such a kind of expensive labour law reforms?

Jiri Mastalka MEP addressed the issues of protecting the rights of cross-border workers as a key question when talking about mobility and also improving controls and making sanctions more effective as regards undeclared work.

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