Growth strategy for Europe: The European Green Deal. Renovation wave in the construction sector, impossible without social dialogue and participation

With the financial support of the European Union and EZA, BIE International organized a hybrid European seminar on social dialogue in the construction sector, linked to the specific theme of the Green Deal. Title of the seminar, that took place from 18 to 20 October 2021 in Brussels and online, was “Growth strategy for Europe: The European Green Deal. Renovation wave in the construction sector, impossible without social dialogue and participation”. 38 key industry players from trade unions in 10 countries (Belgium, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Finland) participated in the seminar.

The European Green Deal, with its proposed renovation wave initiative, aims to kick-start the transformation of today’s buildings into the buildings of the future. While the benefits of a climate-neutral building stock are clear and widely understood, achieving this goal will require immediate action and an unprecedented level of collective effort from all segments of the wider sector, with a particular focus on affordability and inclusion.

BIE International cooperated very closely with the European Federation of the Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) and its members to ensure the quality of the seminar. FIEC, the European Construction Industry Federation, was also invited to the seminar. 

In his opening speech, Patrick Vandenberghe, spokesman for the construction sector for the Belgian trade union and President of ACV-CSC BIE (Building, Industry & Energy) stressed the importance of a dynamic social dialogue.  European, national, regional and local trade unions need to be consulted on the design and implementation of economic, employment and social policies of the European Green Deal aspects as the European environmental ambitions will heavily impact workers. A full involvement of trade unions in a structured sectoral social dialogue at the various levels should be guaranteed. 

Jozef Mozolewski, Vice President of EZA, warmly welcomed us all and informed us of his presence at the seminar as an active observer with the concern to safeguard and develop the quality of EZA projects.

Magdalena Sikorowska, EFBWW policy officer, explained to the members of the European Works Council (EWC) and the trade union officers present the technical aspects of the European Green Deal instrument, as well as the different legislative proposals at EU level, and highlighted in this respect the main opportunities and challenges for the construction sector in particular. Magdalena emphasized that the Green Deal, and especially the Renovation Wave, will bring huge opportunities, but also challenges for the construction sector. The transition will create green jobs, for which new skills will be needed due to the emergence of new jobs. The sector has the opportunity to participate in shaping the transition itself, while attracting new talent by making the sector more attractive and improving the skills of its workers. She stressed the importance of unions being consulted on the design and implementation of economic, social and employment policies.  

In the interactive discussion that followed Magdalena's presentation, it was emphasized that member states are responsible for the implementation of EU law and that they can also adopt national provisions that are more ambitious than what is agreed at the European level. They can create a favorable national framework for building renovation in many different areas, from financing to improving the skills of the workforce to social housing regulations.

Several speakers from different countries, such as Belgium, Denmark and France, presented interesting European infrastructure projects and the resulting best practices achieved through effective social dialogue on these respective infrastructure projects. The Oosterweel project, the Fermern tunnel and the 2024 Olympic Games construction sites were presented by Ronny Matthysen from ACV-CSC BIE (Belgium), Gunde Odgaard from BAT Kartellet (Denmark), and Samir Baïri, FNCB-CFDT (France) respectively.  

Adrian Joyce, Secretary General of EuroAce, presented a very interesting study conducted by Renovate Europe on the role of renovation in national recovery and resilience plans.  Adrian stressed that renovation is at the intersection of the EU's ecological, economic and social priorities and that this is a unique opportunity to kick-start the implementation of the renovation wave strategy.  

Adrian showed us that renovation is an important feature of the national plans, with a significant amount of funding allocated: ~40 billion euros in 18 member states. While most countries allocate 11-14% of the funds, there are significant variations: from €86 million in Slovenia and €101 million in Austria, to €7.8 billion in Spain and €8.6 billion in Italy. There are also differences per capita. The residential sector leads with about 22 billion euros (56%) of financing; the public sector follows with almost 14 billion euros (34%). In most cases, this is a medium-depth renovation, with primary energy savings of at least 30%. 

Adrian's presentation also gave us the opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of country-specific plans.   

On the second day of the seminar, different speakers from France, Belgium and Poland gave us concrete examples of what has been done on the ground in their respective countries to strengthen social dialogue and engage with politicians. The speakers highlighted the strength of collective agreements and social dialogue, and also talked about the challenges of the construction sector when it comes to posted workers and social dumping, as well as the aspect of health and safety in the workplace. It was also mentioned that public works have an important leverage role to play.  

Construction companies vary greatly both in terms of their size and the type of projects they specialize in. Large companies often focus on commercial buildings and large-scale projects, and small companies on individual residential renovations.

Tom Deleu, EFBWW General Secretary and Domenico Campogrande, General Director of FIEC debated in a panel discussion. Their discussion was marked by a similar position on opportunities and challenges, as well as a commitment to promote social dialogue in the construction sector. 

In his closing remarks, Pierre Cuppens, Secretary General of ACV-CSC BIE, concluded that the European construction unions fully support the objectives set out in the European Green Deal and welcome the European ambitions to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. However, he stressed that building a "greener" Europe creates many opportunities, but also many challenges for the construction, wood, furniture, forestry and building materials industries. No worker should be left behind and it must be ensured that all workers and citizens have the right to decent wages, proper working conditions and adequate social protection. In conclusion, no green deal without social dialogue and participation.