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7 June 2019

Trade union related research institutes meet on the verge of the ETUC Congress to discuss common research topics

This year the members of the network of research Institutes close to the trade union movement (TURI) were invited by the Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK) to hold their annual conference on the fringe of the ETUC Congress in Vienna. On 20 May, 52 participants from more than 30 Institutes gathered in the premises of the AK to discuss issues of particular interest to them. Christophe Klein, the AK’s Director, welcomed the participants by underlining the necessity for having such a network, given the transnational nature of the current challenges which trade unions and their research institutes are confronted with. ETUI Director, Philippe Pochet, gave an overview of the Congress agenda and invited the TURI members to support the ETUI in organizing an exchange on the topic of trade union renewal, which is of great importance for the European trade union movement today.

Marta Kahancová from the recently joined Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI), kicked off the first session of the conference by presenting the research project she has participated in - on “Trade Union Responses to Precarious Work in Central and Eastern Europe”.  An important finding of this research has been that although unions differ very much with regard to organizational resources, they “offer largely similar responses across countries in terms of the rationales and approaches chosen to address precarious work.” Her colleague, Mária Sedláková, talked about working conditions and strategies of social partners towards platform work in Slovakia. According to this research, there have been no attempts so far to organize employees in the platform economy from workers side, and there is even an agreement among all stakeholders that “platform workers are not employees and platforms are not their employers”. Simon Theurl from the host organization discussed the role of the firm in creating unemployment in Austria and what the Austrian job centre can do to activate firms to make use of labour market policies. Luigi Lama of the Cisl National Study Center talked about different experiences of unionizing low wage/weak workers in the sectors of agriculture, commerce and hospitality industry and logistics and transportation in Italy.

The second session focused on collective bargaining in Europe with Vera Glassner from the AK explaining the situation in Austria. In her view, despite the relative stability of collective bargaining   institutions in Austria, currently the power relations are shifting to detriment of labour. At the same time the Chamber of Labour has been constantly under attack by the conservative-right-wing government. Following this presentation, Udo Rehfeld from the French IRES gave some background to the recent reforms (2016-17) in France whose government has  introduced a state-imposed decentralization of collective bargaining. On another note, Torsten Müller from the ETUI and Thorsten Schulten from the German Institute of Economic and Social Research in the Hans-Böckler-Foundation (WSI) talked about the revival of the debate on a European Minimum Wage – arguing that it is now on the agenda at national level in many countries (Germany, Spain, UK etc) but also on the EU agenda. It featured in campaigns for the recent elections, and is also mentioned in the European Pillar of Social Rights. Salvo Leonardi, from the Rome based Fondazione Di Vittorio, then presented his research on decentralization trends in Europe, with examples from Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Belgium. He argued that “although collective bargaining institutions have been under pressure, they did not change on the outside”, however he sees the weakening of horizontal coordination leading to segmented bargaining as the main future threat to collective bargaining.  

The last session of the conference dealt with the pressing topic of neo-nationalism in the EU and the role of the trade unions. Heiner Dribbusch from WSI explained the positions of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) towards the rise of the far right in Germany. “Union membership does not prevent people to vote for far right”, he said, although the position of the trade unions is very clear in this respect. Joachim Becker, Professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business who has done an extended research on the programmes and praxis of neo-nationalist parties in EU countries, argued that the dominant elements characterizing most of the parties he studied are their conservatism and neo-liberal economic orientation. In this respect he recommended that trade unions should reveal to their members that, de facto, those parties are against social dialogue and for a flexibilization of labour relations.

In his closing remarks, ETUC Deputy General Secretary Peter Scherrer underlined the importance of membership for having strong unions and he urged stronger organizations to help weaker ones. For this “we need to talk to each other honestly”, he said, as this “is in our common interest” and “otherwise we will lose the representativity”.

To download the presentations, please click here

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