Work Environment from the Perspectives of Social Partners – promoting decent working places

On May 13 – 14, 2016 an international conference „Work Environment from the Perspectives of Social Partners – promoting decent working places“ was held in Vilnius. It was organised by Lithuanian Labour Federation (LDF) with the support of EZA and European Union.

The conference was attended by more than 50 leaders of Trade unions and workers' organizations from Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia and Lithuania.

The conference was divided into three parts. The first part of the conference concentrated on the meaning of work in human life. J. Švedienė, vice-president of EZA, welcomed the seminar participants on behalf of the EZA. She introduced the EZA organization, provided latest developments and updated information on its activities and, finally, she presented goals and objectives of the seminar.

The President of LDF, S. Andriulis welcomed the participants of the seminar who gathered in Vilnius. He introduced the idea of the conference, presented the tasks and programme of the conference and wished productive work during the seminar.

Monsignor Ž. Vabuolas made the starting speech analysing the Work from the perspectives of Christian Ethics and Church Social Teaching. The speaker underlined that the topic of decent work occupies an important place in the Church Social Teaching.  The Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical "Rerum novarum" (about new things) analyses the relationship between employees and employers, teaches employers to respect their workers' dignity. Pope spoke about working time and fair compensation for their work. Unemployment violates the person who is unemployed. He stops values. According to the speaker, work is important for humans - gives them confidence to be able to take care of their loved ones and to support the needs of themselves. The work gives a person dignity.

L. Terlinder, the representative of the Catholic University of Leuven, made an interesting speech analysing Job Satisfaction and its Different Components in Europe. As the speaker underlined, the concept of job satisfaction has been developed in many ways by many different researchers and practitioners. Job satisfaction refers to the positive attitudes or emotional dispositions people may gain from work or through aspects of work. Employees’ job satisfaction becomes a central attention in the researches and discussions in work and organizational psychology because it is believed to have relationship with the job performance. The speaker underlined these main points during her speech:

-           Job satisfaction = Combination of job characteristics and personal characteristics;

-          It has its consequences on workers‘ physical and psychological health, etc;

-          Employers can easily improve job satisfaction without sacrificing productivity, by increasing job quality;

-          Good jobs are not only good for individual workers but also for employers and the society;

-          Job satisfaction is more than a journey, not a destination, as it applies to both employees and the employer.

The second part of the seminar focused on the topic Safety and Health at work. J.M. Miller, the representative of EUROFOUND, introduced Comparative analysis on Safety and Health at Work in Different European Countries. The speaker concentrated on the key of European documents and studies, which analyse the safety and health at work. J.M. Miller underlined that there are significant differences resulting from specific traditions and cultures of labour relations and labour market organisation. Companies face increased competition, in particular, from low cost competitors.  Increased pressure on costs has a negative effect on employment and working conditions as well as OSH standards. Within the European model, social partners and social dialogue in general have a key role to play in helping to improve working conditions (Eur level). Speaker highlighted that the European level of regulation and European social dialogue is quite far removed from the realities at the shop-floor level throughout Europe.

N. Šot, the representative of European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA), made the presentation on OSHA Campaigns Promoting Healthy and Safe Working Places. As the speaker underlined, Safe and healthy working conditions throughout the whole working life are good for workers, business and society as a whole. This is the main message of the 2016–17 Healthy Workplaces Campaign.

The 2016–17 Healthy Workplaces Campaign “Healthy workplaces for all ages” has four key objectives:

-promoting sustainable work and healthy ageing from the start of the working life;

-preventing health problems throughout the working life;

-providing ways for employers and workers to manage occupational safety and health in the context of an ageing workforce;

-encouraging the exchange of information and good practice.

The speaker concluded her presentation with these statements. The European workforce is ageing. Retirement ages are rising and working lives are likely to become longer. Working is good for physical and mental health, and good management of occupational safety and health increases productivity and efficiency. Demographic change can cause problems, but ensuring a sustainable working life helps to meet those challenges. Finally, N. Šot invited all the EZA member centres to participate in the campaign.

Trade union colleagues from Spain and Estonia shared their best practices on the topic of Workers Representatives’ Participation in Policy of Safety and Health.

The representative of Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists S. Besagirskas explained Employers' efforts to motivate employees creating Favourable Environment for them. The speaker underlined that nowadays human resources are being recognized by increasing the number of organizations all over the world as their most important asset. So, firstly, the ability to select, attract and retain the right employees is crucial to the success of an organization and causes new challenges and higher importance of human resource professionals in organizations. On the other hand, there is also an increasing competition among the employers through their reputation and branding. However, most of the employers in Lithuania, as well as, in all over the world turns the question around by asking  how to become an employer of choice, if they possess the attributes of an attractive employer. Looking from a global perspective, the perception of an attractive employer or attractive work place is also highly influenced by country context. Lithuanian employers are, firstly, focusing their attention on the attributes of an attractive employer related to the content of employee’s work and directly influencing factors. Fewer efforts are being put in to creating and providing an attractive working environment, while the rewarding and motivating of employees receives the least of attention from employers. It seems that this could be explained again with the Lithuanian context.

The speaker gave many practical examples on the topic. S. Besagirskas criticized budgetary institutions because of low productivity and old management methods.

The third part of the conference was devoted to the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility. The Board Chairman of Responsible Business Association of Lithuania, A. Alijošiutė made the presentation on the topic „Responsible Business in Lithuania – does this exist?”

According to the speaker, Lithuania does not have long-term experience in CSR management, though, it has done much in this field. Participation in Lithuanian National responsible business network, national awards for responsible companies, projects funded by the European Union and Lithuanian government, growing conscience of the society, changing consumer culture – these are the results achieved by Lithuania in few years term. The results show that social responsibility is the outcome of cooperation between the state, society and business enterprises. The researches show that companies find it beneficial to be socially responsible as it improves their reputation and image, increase customers and employees‘ trust. However, some voices doubt  that companies merely use the CSR movement as a marketing tool, trumpeting their compliance with mandatory legal rules - something they must do anyway - without actually contributing anything extra to the welfare of communities they work with. This begs a question of whether Lithuania's legal system and companies are ready for a genuine CSR challenge?

The speaker highligted, Lithuania still has to do much so that CSR can naturally become useful both for the state, society and business companies. Several of the most important factors that promote understanding the benefit of CSR – it is information and education of the society, and fostering valuables. It is important to highlight not only practical but also emotional benefit of CSR.

Afterwards, The best practice from the enterprise „AQ Wiring systems“ was explained by the vice-president of LDF J. Soms. The company got the award as a socially responsible enterprise.

Representatives from SS BOFOS and FIDESTRA presented the topic of „Good atmosphere in the workplace – employees motivating factor“. They shared the best practices from their countries. 

V. Scharlowsky, the representative of DGB, presented the Trade Union Involvement in the Creation of Safe Work Environment. The German occupational health system has been in existence for over a century. It provides a model of good governance based on health in all policies, effectively financing and delivering comprehensive occupational health services in collaboration with the national labour inspection authorities and associations of social partners.

According to the speaker, the role of Trade union for unhealthy workplaces is very significant. A number of broader strategies can be used by the Trade union to structure OHS activities in unhealthy workplaces. Trade union can identify unhealthy workplaces through exchanging information with workers, management and owners of the factories. The important role is that Trade unions can play in relation to moritoring and encouraging compliance with OHS regulations. Organizational factors are a critical factor in the origin of OHS problems and accordingly solution must be sought that draw on the full resources of the organization, especially its workers. Trade union can also play the key role through forming participatory OHS committees so that employees would be actively involved in hazard assessment, the setting of safety standards and policy formulations. Balance representation between Trade union and management is vital to ensure that workers can genuinely influence these processes.

L. Nemcova gave the speech “Business Ethics, Law and Justice in today’s world: Experience from the Czech Republic”. As the speaker underlined, it should be remembered that the Czech society changed considerably after the velvet revolution in 1989 - the political, economic, social and cultural system has been changed. There were many illusions, ideals, expectations and visions. The society starts to be based on the liberty and to create free market economy.

The speaker also mentioned that the new strata of the population “entrepreneurs" was created with different aims, the foreign capital was invested also with different aims.To reflect together on the ethics of doing business, together you have decided to focus your attention on values, values, which are the backbone of any project formation, of the appreciation of your country, and of promoting social relations, which allow for concrete alternative to the consumerist model of profit at all costs. Taking into account, various groups of society, most in need, were often forgotten. These include the family in which the work experience, the sacrifice which sustains it, and fruits which it produces find meaning and import. It also takes into account those weaker and more marginalized categories of people, like the elderly and young people, whose potential for work should be imprisoned in uncertainty and unemployment. All these strengths combined can make a difference.

The last part of the conference was concentred on sharing the best practices: working groups discussed on following issues:

1. How to strengthen the social partners' contribution of creating healthy and safe working conditions for employees.

2. The state's role in promoting safe, healthy and dignified jobs.

3. Promotion of Corporate Social Responsibility, how to strengthen workers and employers cooperation in this field.

Summarizing the presentations and discussions we can say that in Lithuania the constitution of workers’ health and wellbeing is understood in quite a narrow sense. Both, the social partners and public authorities, when addressing employees’ safety and health at work, mainly confine their attention to the prevention of accidents at work and occupational diseases, as well as, different negative physical factors persisting at the workplace.

In order to be healthy and satisfied with their work and work productively, employees require for the well-being, enhancing working conditions. Employee‘s well-being is one of the key factors to define long-term effectiveness of organizations.

However, it is not enough to ensure occupational safety and health issues to have physically and mentally healthy employees, who are satisfied with their jobs. There is also a necessity to foster their well-being at work. Psychosocial work environment is an essential area for the development of employees’  well-being.

The social partners need to explore joint efforts to improve the work environment and the organisation of work to link improved productivity and higher value added per employee. The full involvement of the social partners is crucial in achieving decent work. Strong trade union organisation in the workplace, collective bargaining between workers and employers, and the right to information and consultation, enabling people to influence the way their work is organised, should be backed up by adequate social protection and legal standards. Corporate Social Responsibility has a role to play in encouraging employers to raise standards, but should not replace negotiated agreements and legally binding rules.

RESOLUTION

More than 50 representatives of trade unions and workers organisations from Germany, Spain, Portugal, Latvia, Estonia, Belgium, Serbia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania had discussions on:

  • The meaning of work in human life: human dignity and work from the perspectives of Church social teaching;
  • Health and safety at work: safety and health at work in different European countries, OSHA campaigns promoting safe and healthy working conditions;
  • Working environment, encouraging employees‘ welfare and employers‘ efforts to motivate employees, creating favourable environment;
  • Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility; the needs and benefits of ethical and responsible business;
  • The involvement of Trade unions on the creation of safe and healthy work environment; the role of social partners promoting decent working places.

SOCIAL PARTNERS STATE:

1.    The full involvement of social partners is crucial to achieving decent work.

2.    An appropriate social dialogue is important to implement high job quality standards, posed both for companies and for employees.

3.    Strong trade union organisation in the workplace, collective bargaining between workers and employers, and the right to information and consultation, enabling people to influence the way their work is organised, should be backed up by adequate social protection and legal standards. 

4.    Developing and sustaining a healthy work environment and workforce has clear benefits for companies and employees, but can also lead to an improvement in social and economic development at local, regional, national and European level.

5.    It is needed to raise awareness of the importance of health and safety at the workplace and identify ways to integrate health and safety at work into national education and training programmes in accordance with national customs and practices.

6.    The Employment expansion programmes in all European countries, first of all,  have to focus on the creation of safe and healthy jobs.

7.    The governments of different countries have to allocate more funds and measures on the inspection, assessment of health and safety at work.

8.    It is necessary to use the best practice examples from other countries, where safety standards at work are higher.

9.     Social partners must demand responsible attitude towards an employee, a business organization, working conditions and industrial relations, as well as the implementation of responsible and moral social policies.

10.  Corporate Social Responsibility has a role to play in encouraging employers to raise standards, but should not replace negotiated agreements and legally binding rules.

11.  There is a need of closer cooperation between social partners in order to promote decent working places and intensify the CSR between the enterprises, especially, small and medium sized.