Strengthening the social dimension in the European Packaging Sector: towards a functioning and representative European Social Dialogue committee 1 + 2

With the financial support of the European Union and EZA, BIE International organized two European online events on the social dialogue in the packaging sector with the title “Strengthening the social dimension in the European Packaging Sector: towards a functioning and representative European Social Dialogue committee”. This is a growth sector that is facing substantial changes as a result of digitalisation and the development of e-commerce, as well as the pressures to decarbonise the economy. 

The COVID19-crisis has accelerated these trends and did set the sector in focus as an essential sector. However, the sector is diluted in different European social dialogue roundtables, where it is not a dominant sector.  

BIE International cooperated very closely with UNI Europa Graphical & Packaging (UNI G&P) to ensure the quality of this workshop.

For UNI Europa Graphical and it’s national affiliates like ACV-CSCBIE it is a priority to develop an effective social dialogue in the sector, in order to address the challenges of digitalisation, green transition and European recovery. This project was a first step to work with the UNI G&P affiliates and IndustriAll European Trade Union on a sustainable solution for this challenge.

19 key role players from the sector coming from trade union organizations from 9 countries (Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany, Austria, the UK, France and Finland) participated in the High-Level Workshop on 23 November 2021 

We took stock of social dialogue in this highly diverse sector in order to decide how to proceed from now on. In his opening speech as the new policy officer for UNI-Europa, Luca Baldan underlined the importance of a vibrant social dialogue. The chemicals and paper production strands already have their own European Social Dialogue Committees (ESDCs) and these were presented at the workshop by Maike Niggeman, a policy advisor at IndustriAll Europe and Gerald Kreuzer from the Austrian union PRO-GE and president of the European Social Dialogue committee for the paper sector. 

Daniel Fernandez from UNI-Europa explained that the printing strand did not have an ESDC to support it at present. Maila Puolamaa, who covers the energy intensive industries at the European Commission, gave a brilliant presentation about how the EU’s Green Deal and Recovery Plan would impact the sector. 

After listening to the experts, participants had an interesting exchange on improving the social dialogue in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The President of UNI-Europa G&P, Simon Dubbins, summarised the outcome as follows: we need to step up cooperation relating to the sector between UNI and IndustriAll, we need to establish what instruments we already have for social dialogue and work together on an effective strategy. 

On 25 February 2021 BIE International organized a second event, a dissemination webinar, in close cooperation with EZA and UNI Europa Graphical & Packaging (UNI G&P). This with a special focus on EWC-members from the major multinational companies from the sector that are present in the EU.

One of the lessons learned is that it is much harder to get workers representatives free from work to attend a webinar. The pressure from the companies to stay at work is much higher than for a physical seminar. Most of the EWC-members are blue collar workers who can’t work from home.

The webinar started with an overview by Jan Franco of the results of our High-Level Workshop and with a clear objective for this event: mapping the existing social dialogue in the sector and to determine the missing parts. An overview of today’s and tomorrow’s challenges was given by Daniel Fernandez: digitalisation, green transition and European recovery.

In a second chapter Mrs Jitka Hudrova from the EU commission (DG EMPL) explained the European social dialogue in all its forms. She highlighted the successes and the weaknesses of the current dialogue.

After the break UNI Europa director Dimitris Theodorakis gave a report on his experiences in several European dialogue committees. This with special attention to the Hairdressers dialogue where employers and trade unions reached an agreement on health and safety, but where it was not that easy to find a solution to change this agreement into a binding EU directive.

The national social dialogues where then presented by Frank Borloo (BE), Gerald Kreuzer (AT) and Tony Berggren (SE). The morning session was closed by a lively question and answer session with the participants.

In the first session of the afternoon practical experiences from the sector EWC were shared by UNI Europa EWC-coordinators Jan Franco and Tony Berggren. The main topics were best practices on agenda setting, quality of information and communication, networking and communication. In the second session the EWC-members got the opportunity to exchange their experiences and to learn from each other. This worked rather well in this online setting.

29 key role players from the sector coming from trade union organizations (Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, France, Greece and Finland) participated in the seminar. In total 48 workers representatives and trade union officers were involved in both initiatives. 

The results of these two initiatives will be used as a foundation for the roadmap of the sector social partners to strengthen the social dialogue in the packaging sector. Organizing this online wasn’t easy at all but the objectives have been attended as foreseen.