Social dialogue in multinational companies in the building materials and in the construction industry

A conference entitled „Social dialogue in multinational companies in the building materials and in the construction industry” was organized by BIE Int. (Bouw-Industrie & Energie International), the Trade Union of Construction and Building Materials Industry Workers of Serbia and the Autonomous Trade Union of Road Maintenance Workers of Serbia on September 11-12, 2018 in Belgrade with the financial support of EZA and the European Union. It was part of the EZA special project for workers’ organisations in the Western Balkans.

Participants of the conference were the representatives of branch unions and shop stewards of CRH, Titan Cement, LafargeHolcim, Carmeuse and STRABAG from Romania, Poland, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia and Serbia.

In the set-up of the program active participation was foreseen through group work and plenary discussions.

At the Conference the state of social dialogue in different countries and multinational companies was discussed. Different tools for organizing and promoting a genuine social dialogue were presented and discussed. Particular attention was given to the case of LafargeHolcim that evolved from an example for benchmarking social dialogue to a bad example. With the arrival of a new CEO the company broke its promise to sign a GFA and commit itself to real and genuine social dialogue in Europe. This has been a great shock for trade unions involved within LafargeHolcim. CRH is another multinational company that challenges minimum legal requirement for social dialogue.

The following conclusions were adopted:

  1. Social dialogue takes place in a specific political and socio-economical context.

In different regions of Europe one can see different models for social dialogue. These models were shaped through long years of social history. It is important that social dialogue can bring what it is expected to bring: “it should deliver for workers and companies”.

For workers this means a fair share in the wealth created in society and in the company. One can see that this is not always the case for some countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Western Balkans. The sometimes spectacular growth of GDP since their accession to the EU has not “trickled down” evenly to all layers of society. The institutions for redistribution seem broken. Many examples were given of existing legal obstacles to effectively organize a genuine social dialogue on national, sectoral and/or company level.

Besides legal constraints, there is also very often the absence of representative social partners.

The constraints and problems witnessed within the different models of social dialogue are also apparent within the trade union organizations. Most often trade unions are very decentralized with focus of the organization laying on company trade unions. Sectoral federations are very weak: financially and politically.

  1. Together with the European employer federation FIEC, the EFBWW will start up a capacity building project for social partners in Central- and Eastern Europe. The project has been approved by the European Commission and run for 2 years. The EFBWW is inviting participants of this conference to become part of the steering group.
  2. There are different models of social dialogue, they need to be fit for purpose. I.e. do they deliver on the promise for more social justice and giving workers fair share in the prosperity that is created.
  3. To promote social dialogue on company, sectoral and national level there is a need for a robust legal and organizational framework.
  4. A political framework promoting genuine social dialogue and strong and representative sectoral social partners are a precondition for the development of sustainable industrial relations and social dialogue. Participants expressed their readiness to further promote social dialogue at all levels, from company, via sectoral to national one.
  5. A legal framework that promotes a genuine social dialogue is needed; in that sense the participants of the conference condemn the ongoing neoliberal attacks on trade unions and the institutions for social dialogue, especially –but not only– in Central-and Eastern Europe and in the Balkans.
  6. “Troika”-policies in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis had a disastrous effect on institutions of social dialogue. These policies should be reversed.
  7. Structural funds from the EU towards Central- and Eastern European member states should also take into consideration social justice criteria.
  8. Widespread corruption leads to the absence of “rule of law”. Fight against corruption should be a political priority.
  9. These conferences help to meet each other on a regular basis. This in turn helps to create and further develop trade union networks within targeted multinational companies.
    • STRABAG, CRH and LafargeHolcim are target companies.
    • These conferences give opportunities to create and further develop trade union networks within these and other companies.
    • There is a need to sustain communication in between 2 conferences. This is the responsibility of participating trade unions and each individual participant.
    • A Serbian representative was an active participant in the EWC of STRABAG. Due to pressure from management side he has ended up in a negative spiral with grave health issues as a result. All participants want to show their concern and solidarity with their Serbian colleague. The EFBWW proposes to the Serbian trade union to send a letter to the STRABAG management.
    • Solidarity is a core principle. Important to invite also trade union representatives of the countries where the HQ of the multinational companies are based.
  10. The EU is the only region in the world with a clear legal framework that obliges multinational companies to organize transnational social dialogue, i.e. the European Works Council.
    • The participants of the conference are invited to participate actively in existing European Work Councils. Special attention should be given to the designation and/or election of EWC members. All too often EWC members are no trade unionists, not supported by the trade union or even „chosen by management“.
    • It is of great importance that the EWC and all its instances –e.g. the select committee– can be representative also on regional basis. We need positive examples and role models from Central & Eastern Europe in the EWC.
    • The EFBWW organizes training for EWC representatives. It is important that EWC members EFBWW has a very important role.
    • When negotiating a new EWC agreement it is important to try and involve trade unions from accession countries, such as Serbia. This can be realized through foreseeing observer seats in the EWC. If this is not possible one should still look at ways how to involve these trade unions in the European trade union work in these companies.
  11. The sector of road building and road maintenance is a very specific subsector with specific regulations. The participants consider that it is a priority to further develop the Pan-European network for road building and road maintenance.
  12. CRH is a target company for setting up of a trade union network
    • After the divestment of assets because of the merger between Lafarge and Holcim, CRH has become a very important regional and global player in the building material industry. CRH has a Euroforum in place since 1996. The agreement was revised – without trade union participation– in 2013. According to the 2009 Directive the agreement and the practice of the Euroforum is well below minimum standards. It is a priority for the EFBWW and the participants of the conference to open negotiations with the company to revise the agreement, thus setting the standards that should permit a genuine social on European level.
    • In some countries in the EU and in the pan-European region, CRH has a very bad reputation on social issues. The enterprise is actively blocking and/or undermining social dialogue and the role of the trade unions. Recently there have been severe problems and conflicts in Ukraine between the trade union and local management.
    • In other countries –e.g. Serbia– CRH is a good example for social dialogue and high-quality collective agreements. In many cases the good CRH examples can be traced back to former Lafarge or Holcim practices that were in place.
  13. The participants welcome the results of the conference and hope to continue these discussions and reflections on a structural basis. There is however a need to further clarify goals and objectives, so as to be able to respond even better to expectations.
    • All participant trade unions are requested to further reflect on this issue and come back with their position. Should focus be on: exchange of experiences, develop joint strategies, training, capacity building. Or a mix of these.
    • There is a need to change the “culture of complaints” and “Europe has to help us”-mentality into constructive, bottom-up trade union policies starting each and everyone’s strengths and competences. There is a need for professionalization. This is not only a political process but also a cultural process.
    • It is needed to focus more on “good practices” and “result based” trade union practices. The colleagues from Croatia can show good results within e.g. STRABAG and Bouygues within their country. These good practices should be further analyzed to determine success factors.
    • But one should also be guided by the principle of Thomas of Aquinas: “He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust”.
  14. The participants want to express their gratitude to the EU and EZA as well as EFBWW, ACV-BIE and CNV Vakmensen who have enabled financially and supported organizationally this conference.