Kick-off seminar: priorities of the European social dialogue

These are drastic words, which highlight the enormity of the problem: There cannot be good workplaces on a dead planet. This way, the ecological transformation also reaches the sphere of influence of workers’ organizations. At this year’s kick-off seminar in Aachen on 28 and 29 November, EZA took a closer look at this issue together with Nell-Breuning-Haus (NBH). Under the title “Ecological transformation – from threat to opportunity”, experts from workers’ organizations, from the scientific sector and the start-up scene discussed how the transformation could lead to innovative concepts for the future.

In his welcome speech, EZA President Luc Van den Brande emphasised that workers’ organizations – particularly Christian-social ones –must take the initiative to advocate for workers in this context. Sustainability must become an integral part of the social market economy concept.

Dr. Manfred Körber, Managing Director of the NBH and the moderator of the EZA kick-off seminar, highlighted the responsibility that today's generations have for future generations: The economy must become environmentally and socially compatible and must aim for social justice.

Social Dialogue in Europe

In terms of contents, the event kicked off with an interview with Jörg Tagger, Division Head “Social Dialogue” of the Directorate General Employment, Social and Integration of the European Commission. He emphasised that the Juncker Commission in particular had set the right course for the future. He also took a look at the upcoming social policy focus of new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, such as the action plan for implementing the European pillar of social rights as well as the issues surrounding fair minimum wages for all, transparent wages, working conditions for platform workers and promoting the social dialogue in general. Tagger also emphasized the topicality of the kick-off seminar in light of the European Green Deal that was announced by von der Leyen. Tagger said that the inclusion of the social partners was essential to the success of the digital and green transformation and the implementation of the pillar of social rights.

Climate change and green economy

Dr. Gerd Schönwälder from the Directorate General Research and Innovation – Healthy Planet, Ecological and Social Transition Department of the European Commission, reported on the planned European Green Deal, which picks up on the idea of the SDGs with its four axes people, climate, environment and economy. One example is the research programme “Horizon Europe”. Between 2021 and 2027, this scientific programme (EUR 100 billion) will examine the global challenges and industrial competitiveness of Europe. The goal of Horizon Europe is to create a fair and rich future for the people and the planet. Schönwälder emphasized the central importance of civil society participation in achieving a fair structural transformation.

Prof. Dr. Matthias Wessling from the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen described the structural transformation that is continued and accelerated by the federal government's coal exit using a practical example: the transformation process in the Rheinische Revier, which is dominated by coal mining. The example highlighted the wide range of questions that need to be clarified with regard to energy security (structural political considerations) on the one hand, and workplace safety and responsibility for people on the other hand. Science and research cannot simply focus on their core competence of promoting technical change, but instead must seek the dialogue with civil society stakeholders. According to Wessling, there are four important factors in the fight against climate change: political framework, investments, people and technology.

Many questions were raised in the discussion, the answers of which were considered to be fundamental by the participants: Who pays for the transition? How will it be possible to take everyone on board? How are workers' organizations and other social organizations involved in the process? Doesn't the European economic system have to be fundamentally changed if technological change is to succeed?

Unemployment due to climate change

Heinz Werner Koller, Assistant Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, and Bart de Wit from the research department of the Allgemeiner Christlicher Gewerkschaftsverband ACV-CSC Metea engaged in a discussion on the topic “Green Economy – Green Workplaces and the Impact on the Work Environment”. Koller outlined the massive loss of workplaces as a result of globally rising temperatures. He said that the concerns of employees must be taken very seriously. In this context, he referred to the lack of action when it comes to education policy: no country in the world has a coherent strategy for lifelong learning. However, such a strategy is an import ant instrument for a successful ecological and social transformation.

Bart de Wit described the effects of a “greening” economy on workplaces using the specific example of the Belgian textile industry. With regard to the textile industry, De Wit highlighted the influence that consumers can exert on sustainable production through their consumer behaviour. Unfortunately, consumer awareness is still under-developed in this regard. De Wit also said that the EU must insist on compliance with sustainable production standards when it negotiates free trade agreements.

At the end, the participants, together with Günther Gantioler, scientific head of the Active House Institute Italia, and Dr. Robert Szewczyk, Authorised Representative of the National Commission for Ecology of the NSZZ “Solicarnosc”, discussed the topic “Energy transformation – On the backs of employees?” as well as questions related to “Use of resources: Is bamboo the new aluminium?” with Jan Friesen, co-founder and co-owner of Camboo, and Fabrice Monseur, Union Secretary of ACV-CSC Metea. Szewczyk described the structural transformation from the viewpoint of an eastern European country: since the 1990s, Poland’s coal mining industry has shed over 300,000 jobs. He demanded more time – also from the EU – for employees to come to grips with the transformation. He said that it is not the responsibility of unions to lead the fight against climate change.

Socioethical questions

Dr. Manfred Böhm from the Katholisches Arbeitnehmerpastoral in the archdiocese of Bamberg asked all these questions in the context of Christian social teachings and outlined the socioethical challenges for a society that remains viable in the future: First, establishing security as one of the most fundamental needs of every person. But also the question of wages as the pivotal point of social ethics. Money is used to distribute life and participatory opportunities. He broached the aspects of humane work, work without borders, digitisation and the resulting transfer of procedural jurisdiction to a technical system, as well as the social responsibility of owner-ship.

Above all, the discussion emphasized that people should not be forgotten in all the complex transformation processes. Not only the technical side should be addressed, but the ethical and moral side also should not be overlooked. Important questions remain unanswered, such as how work will be distributed in the future and who owns the gains in time and income.


EZA education programme 2020

Approximately The EZA Education Programme 2020 will include 70 events, including topics such as "EU policies to strengthen the social dimension of the EU", "Labour mobility within the EU", "Education and lifelong learning as part of an active employment policy for all generations", "Social Justice as a prerequisite for a functioning democracy: the role of workers' organizations, "sustainability" and "changing working relationships and forms in the digital age". The subject area "Health and Safety at Work" will be the focus of the upcoming EU-OSHA campaign for the prevention of work-related muscular and skeletal disorders. EZA has been a campaign partner since 2016.

At the end, EZA Secretary-General Sigrid Schraml underlined the need for urgent action in the fight against climate change. Science and research provide technological solutions. However, that is not enough. What is needed is a clear and courageous political environment and coherent strategies for lifelong learning. Consumers in industrial nations must rethink their behaviour and must be willing to forego part of their wealth. The transformation towards a sustainable and climate-neutral economy can also succeed with the involvement of people, the workers, and must be mitigated in terms of social aspects. Certainly, a discussion is required to define what “socially just” means at a global level. The task of the church is to provide pastoral support for people, unions and labour organisations in mitigating the social aspects of the unavoidable transformation in the labour market.