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Multinational companies dominate much of the economies of the new EU member states of central and eastern Europe. They usually claim to respect trade unions at home and many have signed global agreements with international union organisations. It could be hoped that they would play a positive role, bringing better employment relations practices into countries with weaker traditions of independent trade unions and collective bargaining. This book covers the role in six countries of MNCs in the retail and automotive sectors (Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia).
Each chapter is written by a country expert using published sources and interviews, mostly with trade union representatives, in two or more companies from each of those sectors. The studies show a variety of experiences, but only in a very few cases do western European MNCs actively introduce good practice from their home bases. More often they need to be persuaded to respect trade unions and some remain adamantly opposed or, even if appearing friendly at the start, become more hostile once they sense that unions are weaker than in their home countries. Legal frameworks and inherited trade union strength do make a difference, with unions in Slovenia clearly the best placed.
Trade union methods in exploiting the power resources available to them also make a big difference. Strikes, or even strike threats, have been rare, but have been very important in securing respect. Unions also build their strength by determined organising methods, using links to the media and support from politicians, from international union organisations and from unions in companies’ home countries. Often starting from very little, union organisations have made progress even against quite hostile companies, taking encouragement even from very small gains. They are still a long way from achieving equal pay and employment conditions across the EU.