From trade unions to industrial relations services: a new model

From 6 to 7 December 2018 took place in St. Julians, Malta, a seminar with the topic “From trade unions to industrial relations services: a new model”, organized by UHM (Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin), with the support of EZA and of the European Union. The seminar was part of the academic-practical education and training project of EZA about “Strategies of European institutions – Capacity building”.

45 representatives of workers’ organisations from Malta, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Poland, Romania, Austria, Lithuania, the Netherlands, FYR of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Czech Republic participated in the seminar.

The most important aspect of the project was to provide information and knowledge on how the current dynamics of the labour market and the economy influence the work of trade unions and workers organisations and how workers’ organisations can keep on being drivers of change for decent work. Particular attention was dedicated to explaining the various aspects that impact on the work of trade unions and workers’ organisations such as technology, globalisation, mobility and new forms of employment. The different and high-level profiles of the speakers involved have allowed for a comprehensive discussion and have provided a full picture of the situation, particularly explaining the perspectives of EU institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee. Some presentations have focused on external factors and context analysis. This includes for example the changing macro-economic conditions as well as technological developments that have a direct impact on working relations. At the same time, there has been an active discussion between different stakeholders on how to tackle specific issues such as access to information about employment contracts. Throughout the seminar, it was possible to better understand how workers’ organisations could contribute to deliver to positive effects, particularly how to transform their action into new realities. One of the ideas discussed is to provide online solutions available to the workers to easily understand the minimum standards and working conditions related to their position. Other examples included the re-organisation of the way union services are delivered focusing more on decentralised models that can facilitate a flexible response to the different needs of the workers. Several speakers identified specific challenges for workers’ organisations in relation to both the policy scenario and also in relation to the changes of the labour market.

Participants were also involved in a session whereby experiences were exchanged and solutions adopted at country level were put forward such as for example:

  • direct involvement of tertiary level students in the identification of their major needs through questionnaires and focus groups
  • develop informative campaigns based on the result of surveys for students or for specific categories of workers
  • set up inclusive and effective social dialogue structures within unions
  • work on the external image of unions to create a positive perception
  • invest in training and education
  • providing legal support to workers
  • offer special benefits to members
  • never decline from our values, but take measures to guarantee equal rights
  • put in place transparent systems of fees collection and management and develop database systems on membership

In the second day, the work was concentrated on the aspects of change that unions and workers’ organisations need to undertake at internal level to tackle the new challenges.

The project dealt with an issue which is currently high on the EU Agenda and it is a reality of all National EU economies, namely the changing world of work. The development of the economy towards a gig economy along with the subsequent structural changes in the protection of workers’ rights is a common trend that is being experienced at EU level. In the light of the recent developments, it was very important for unions and workers’ organisations to learn about the factors determining these changes to better identify how to deal with them.

The seminar was therefore an ideal forum for workers’ representatives to better understand their role and possible contribution to the issue and during the discussions, the following key areas were identified:

  • Policy and economical context
  • Change Management and transformations within the organisations

These key areas are the most important factors determining the need for changes in workers organisations models.

Political and economic evolutions shape new employment relations as we have experienced clearly with the digitalisation.

Change management and internal transformations is another key dimension for the future of unions as it depends on their capacity to adapt to the evolving scenario that determine their development and survival.

From the seminar it was very clear that the solutions to address the new challenges for unions start from within the organisations themselves and change management theories can facilitate this process.

The following topic fields were discussed:

  • Trade unions in a changing world: The position and contribution of the EESC to the EU pillar for Social Rights
  • Industry 4.0 and the role of trade unions in work places
  • New models for unions to respond to the new demands
  • Drivers of Change and Emerging Jobs Landscape
  • Experiences of changes and modernizations in unions and workers organisations
  • Innovating Unions to address the new challenges of the labour market
  • Change management in complex organisations 
  • New economic and labour market realities: what should trade unions do?

Dr. Roberta Metsola, MEP delivered a keynote speech which provided a very clear and complete picture of the challenges linked to the evolving labour market.

Prof. Joaquim James Calleja, CEO and Principal of MCAST and former Chairman of CEDEFOP gave important comments on the Industry 4.0 and the challenges for trade unions highlighting  issues where workers’ organisations could actively contribute.

Dr Philip von Brockdorff who represents UHM on the EESC, delivered a presentation whereby starting from the context analysis he delved into suggesting concrete actions to be undertaken at trade union level to address the challenges.

Dr. Joseph FX Zahra, former Chairman of Bank of Valletta, advisor of Pope Francis on Economic and Financial Reforms in the Vatican, is an expert in change management from an organisational point of view. He explained the crucial factors that determine change in complex organisations.

Project results

  • The participants had an in-depth overview of the EU Pillar for Social Rights
  • The participants were exposed to different types of solutions to the problem discussed, both at local or international levels 
  • The participants appreciated the topic and the different challenges linked to macroeconomic scenarios at EU level
  • The participants understood more of the impact of the different principles of the EU pillar and how their organisations can contribute to their implementation

The organisations concerned represent workers’ and their needs and it is of outmost interest to exchange ideas and methods on how to tackle the new challenges of the labour market. It is also important for representatives of workers’ organisations to understand the future dynamics and possible developments at macro level in order to better contribute to policy development. All the participants can use the information and data provided during the seminar in their daily work.