How trade unions can ensure decent work and employment protection: Tackling growing labour market insecurity

From 29 to 31 August 2019 took place a seminar in Sofia / Bulgaria about “How trade unions can ensure decent work and employment protection: Tackling growing labour market insecurity”, organized by PODKREPA (Confederation of Labour PODKREPA), with the support of EZA and of the European Union. 50 representatives of workers’ organizations from Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, France, Serbia, Romania and North Macedonia participated in the seminar.

The objectives of the seminar were as follows:

1. Exhaustive exchange on the necessity to introduce amendments in the policy-making and to implement more effective trade unions actions to shape the increased flexibility of labour and the new forms of employment.

2. Discuss practical steps and tools to tackle the emerging new forms of work, including activities to guarantee fair working conditions, adapted social security schemes, health and safety, access to lifelong learning and career prospects.

3. To point-out concrete trade union actions and policies, directly targeted to overcome the negative effects on jobs’ security.

4. To set-up a short list with priorities areas for trade unions to stop the membership’s drop.

5. To reaffirm that social partnership and dialogue have not alternative, that core workers’ interests and rights may not be replaced by false, flexible arrangements and court-term decisions. Because only the collective protection with negotiation model for regulation of any employment relation is providing guarantee for decent life.

The two-days’ work program included:

- Opening session with strong political messages and key-note speeches on the need for social security investments;

- Presentation on the EZA’s special project on the new form of employment;

- Three modules with reports from participating countries on the situation on national labour markets and Q&A sessions

- Lecture on the flexibility and uncertainty at work, with special emphasis on the main challenges, faced by trade unions;

  •  Individual interventions on more effective trade unions’ activities to effectively oppose to the flexibilization of the employment relations and to reach workers needs in the new form of jobs.

-Round table “How not to lose membership” withparticipants input on how to redefine the implemented till now organizing strategies.

- Summary with conclusions.

Key ideas:

  • Actually, trade unions are challenged by an increasingly diversified world of work. It provides for flexibles labour market, reducing job security. As work’s insecurity is increasing constantly /reaching up to 32% of the total jobs/, trade unions should mobilize to oppose– next five years are decisive for workers organizations - because of the new EP, Commission and the forthcoming activities of the European Labour Authority. Key issue here is the real involvement of workers organizations to modernize the functioning social security and labour legislations.
  • Trade unions should continue pursuing the full application of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights by safeguarding and extending labour and social rights to the new forms of employment.
  • Demographic and social policy should be re-gain their central role of the EU Agenda. To fit with the new realities of dynamically changing industrial relations, is obvious that we need amendments in the national and the international labour and social security legislations.
  • Social security systems should be reviewed and upgraded, as well as the opportunities for legal regulation of all new forms of employment should to be considered, on the one hand to keep the flexibility, which they require, on the other hand – ensure greater protection for workers.
  • Trade union have to work for new legal frameworks to ensure the right to lifelong learning, social and labour protection for platform and non-standard workers in new forms of work.
  • This requires a new vision of trade unions’ role and activities – provide more services, get closer to the “digital employees”, make membership campaign, look for allies, re-vise the content of the collective labour agreements, increase the visibility of solidarity and industrial actions, communicate better with the large public, try to restore the trust in workers’ organizations.
  • In many cases, the trade union’s greatest problem is apathy and disinterest among workers and fears from employers.
  • One of the most pressing problem in Bulgaria is the possibility for aggregated calculation of working time. That possibility should to be limited with regard to eliminate the possibility to increase the pressure and stress on employees to work extra hours.
  •  More than 20 years EU is facing brain-drain and labour mobility from it Eastern to it Western part.  It’s time to re-balance the EU policies and to invest more - in Eastern Europe and to target those investment to solve the very pressing social problems.
  • We have not to undermine the necessity to tackle the unformal practices in the formal economy, as well to try to reach to workers in the outsourcing companies. 

Conclusions and recommendations

  • New technologies and globalization are increasing uncertainty of work, making easier for employers to escape employment regulations and to undermine workers’ traditional orientation for collective actions. That also weakens the ability of trade unions to defend decent working conditions and the already acquired employment rights. 
  • Facing those challenges, trade unions should act to stop the decline in their membership, to reaffirm their public status and to increase the effectiveness and the visibility of their core actions and outcomes.
  • Thus, a process of modernization, revitalization and renewal of workers organization is to be implemented around three main pillars:

First – trade unions should initiate radical transformation of EU and national provisions with regard to create portable social security benefits, that are increasingly important to today’s fast-changing and mobile world of work.

Second – trade unions have to propose innovative and competent legal solutions, which to guarantee coverage, decent wages and appropriate working conditions to all forms of employment;

Third – trade union must uphold social cohesion by promoting a new solidarity and organizational culture in the society.

In short, nowadays trade unions must no longer solely be a movement for advancing claims and seeking to increase wages of its members, but it has to grow into a force who carries out special social tasks with regard to the labour force – safeguarding decent work, work-life balance, equality, vocational training, recreational and health improvement.

Thus, social dialogue outcomes - both in securing legislated labour protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights should become more visible to the large public.

In addition, a good cooperation with other social actors, combined with sound legislative proposals may contribute to build a societal alliance against inequality and precarity, for more democracy at work.