Kick-off seminar 2017: priorities of the European social dialogue

The transformation of workers’ organisations in a changing sociopolitical environment in Europe was the focal issue of the EZA kick-off seminar held in Copenhagen, Denmark from 30 November to 1 December 2017. It was organised in conjunction with Krifa (Kristelig Fagbevægelse) with funding from the European Union.

Some 100 representatives of Christian-social workers’ organisations from 26 European countries gathered to exchange ideas on this question and on the core issues of the EZA education programme 2018.

Philippe Pochet, General Director of ETUI, emphasised in his welcoming address how important good co-operation between EZA and ETUI was. He called for a clear social trade union strategy, to restore a balance between social and economic interests. With regard to current European Commission policy (e.g. the Pillar of Social Rights), he appealed to the participants to take advantage of the window of opportunity currently open in order to promote the social dimension of Europe.

Social dialogue in Europe

Jörg Tagger, acting head of the “Social Dialogue” unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, gave an overview of the historical development and structures of social dialogue on the European level, its currents status, and prospects for the coming years. Tagger underlined the present Commission’s commitment to the social dimension of the EU. For the first time, social dialogue found its way into a Council resolution paper with the “New Start for Social Dialogue”. Active co-operation between the social partners was important, he said, to enable social dialogue to be effective.

In the discussion the workers’ representatives made it plain that precisely co-operation between the social partners was being hindered time and again in practice by the European Commission, and backed this up with concrete examples, such as the continuing lack of an agreement in the hairdressing sector. The European Commission had to insist more strongly that existing labour laws were applied – for instance during accession negotiations with Western Balkan states. Some of the participants felt positive about the recently concluded agreements on the European Pillar of Social Rights, others were sceptical, as it was little more than a non-binding pillar with symbolic value. It was now imperative for life to be breathed into the pillar.

Transformation of workers’ organisations against the background of atypical work – job satisfaction – cyber trade unions

The role which atypical work, job satisfaction and cyber trade unions play in the ongoing changes in the world of work, was examined in three keynote speeches followed by a discussion.

Maria Mihaela Darle (Cartel Alfa) pointed out that a consequence of atypical work, often done without an employment contract, was that for the workers’ organisations involved there was in many cases no precisely defined “opposite party”, and so it was not clear how social dialogue could be set in motion in such cases. It was therefore important to make atypical work visible.

Søren Filbert (Krifa) identified the development of job satisfaction as a new task for workers’ organisations. In view of increasingly frequent stress and burnout in working life, not only had such health risks to be countered with emergency care, but precautionary measures had to be taken to promote job satisfaction throughout working life, to ensure that permanently good working conditions were created.

Cyber trade unions, according to Professor Viorel Rotilă (FSSR), could be an answer to the digital challenges that affect not only the world of work but also the functioning of workers’ organisations. They offered additional instruments enabling the trade unions to be active in the virtual world as well.

In the discussion it became evident that although workers’ organisations had to adapt to the digital revolution, it must not be forgotten that human contact still plays a crucial role. In the EZA network with its Christian and human values, precisely this foundation should not be lost. It also became clear that the virtual orientation of trade unions would appeal more to younger people, but also opened up the opportunity to approach new target groups. It was also emphasised that it was not a case of “either-or”, but one of “as well as”.

The issue of job satisfaction was later re-addressed by Kurt Bech, Head of Corporate Services at Krifa. He presented the Danish Job Satisfaction Index GAIS, in which employees rate their own company. Two key questions defined Bech’s statements: Are job satisfaction and collective agreements mutually exclusive? Is dialogue the opposite of strike? Bech identified as core tasks of trade unions the creation of good jobs, better living conditions, and more job satisfaction. However, he also saw that in many regions of Europe the struggle for minimum wages and a minimum of social standards still had priority today.

500 years of Luther

In his socio-ethical address to mark the Luther anniversary year, Professor Asger Christian Højlund of the Lutheran University of Theology Aarhus, Denmark described trade unions as a key part of the network that God needed to prevent his creation disintegrating. In trade union work, fighting not only for their own rights but also for the rights and life of others, as well as in their endeavours to create and improve good living conditions, he saw an expression of God’s loving care to protect the poor from exploitation.

EZA education programme 2018

An important feature of the EZA education programme 2018, according to Matthias Homey, an academic member of the EZA staff, is the further intensification of links between the topics of the education activities. A cornerstone of this will be the series of seminars on the strategies of European institutions, in which the projects on the focal topic of “capacity building” will have academic back-up. In 2018 there will also be co-ordinated projects on “new labour relations: digitalisation and trade union strategies”, “quality of work”, “European Pillar of Social Rights” and “working and living in a digitised world”.

Agora – EZA networking exchange

The aim of this year’s Agora was to provide members with a better overview of which organisation was working on which topic, and to bring possible partners together.

In his closing remarks, EZA President Bartho Pronk thanked everyone involved in the kick-off seminar for their commitment. Once again, he highlighted in particular the digital challenges in the world of work, and described the gig economy as a dead end.

EZA Educational Programme 2019

Campaign "Healthy Workplaces: Manage dangerous substances"