Sep 29, 2020 Europe Etuc

HL Ce 10 septembre 2020

Minutes of the ETUC Virtual Executive Committee of 2-3 July 2020

General Secretary Agostino Siciliano attended and spoke at the meeting for the Ferpa.

After opening the meeting and having the agenda and minutes of the last statutory meetings adopted, with some minor modifications, ETUC President Laurent BERGER gave the floor to ETUC General Secretary Luca VISENTINI for his presentations. The ETUC launched a successful mobilisation on 18 June, i.e. the day before the European Summit, but the Summit did not take any final decision and the European leaders decided to meet again on 17 and 18 July. For the ETUC it is crucial that the Commission’s proposals are not compromised or weakened. This is why the ETUC Secretariat is proposing to the Executive Committee to organise a new European trade union mobilisation in the days leading up to the summit, in the form of – A letter to be sent to all presidents and heads of state or government of the European institutions, – A press release to be issued in advance to members under embargo, of which the letter sent to the heads of state is a key element. – Sharing for social networks with clear and punchy messages. At the same time, the ETUC is closely monitoring the deployment of the emergency measures already adopted (ECB, EIB, SURE, reallocation of unused EU funds, etc.). However, they are still experiencing unacceptable delays due to the lack of decision-making and/or implementation on the part of the Member States and the banking sector. A balance must be found between “loans” and “grants” and indicate what European markets must do to move in this direction Then the Secretary General presented for adoption a declaration on the German Presidency of the Union, which begins on 1 July, specifying our priorities. Similarly, the ETUC and the DGB are cooperating to ensure appropriate trade union involvement in the various Presidency events, including the Conference on Social Europe to be held on 15 and 16 September 2020, organised by the German Minister of Labour, which will include a general opening involving the leaders of the social partners as well as five workshops on the main priorities of the Presidency in the social fields. The DGB and ETUC will present a joint application in the workshop on the theme: “Labour mobility – coverage of collective bargaining – legal minimum wage”. Then, an update was given on Brexit and the negotiations resumed on 29 June, concerning the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom stated that it was not asking for an extension of the transition period. There is little time to reach a positive agreement, especially with regard to the maintenance of acquired rights. A statement on this subject was also proposed and discussed. The ETUC will meet with the chief negotiator of the Union, Mr Michel Barnier, in the coming days. A third declaration was also submitted to the Executive Committee on the Conference on the Future of Europe, proposed by the President of the Commission, Mrs Ursula von der LEYEN. She had declared herself “open to a modification of the Treaty and to legislative action if necessary”. On 15 January, the Parliament had defined its position by declaring : The demand that social issues be among the priorities of the Conference, including key issues for the future of the Union, namely: social justice and equal opportunities, fundamental rights, governmental challenges and the climate crisis, and economic and employment issues. The inclusion of 4 representatives of the European social partners (2 on the trade union side and 2 on the employers’ side) in the plenary of the Conference. A week later, on 22 January, the Commission clarified its position in a Communication. But this does not include the necessary and clear recognition of the role that the social partners should play during the Conference and in its preparation. Furthermore, the reference to possible Treaty changes was deleted. For its part, the ETUC will continue to press for : – ensure the full participation of the social partners in the Conference at all levels; – ensure that the priorities of the Conference place a strong emphasis on economic, social and democratic issues, including social justice and equality, fundamental rights and sustainability and just transition; – support amendments to the Treaty that would include a protocol on social progress to ensure that the protection of social rights, workers’ rights and trade union rights is strengthened and given primary status. Finally, in March the social partners sent a joint letter to the European Institutions on the Conference, stressing the need to – ensure the full and active participation of the European social partners in the governance structure of the Conference and in the preparation, at European and national level; – ensure that the Conference includes a plenary session with the presence and active participation of representatives of the European social partners – ensure a strong focus on economic and social issues in the priorities of the Conference, taking into account the contributions of the European social partners In the debate that followed this communication from the Secretary General, the organisations intervened on the four topics discussed. Concerning Brexit, all insisted that it is important to find an agreement, but not at any price! The Union must protect the social rights of workers. The United Kingdom must not become “Singapore on the Thames” by dint of deregulation! Concerning the German Presidency, there is agreement on the priorities but to introduce more balance between social, ecological and economic aspects. As far as the Conference is concerned, there is unanimous support for demanding a full place for the social partners. However, some questioned what was meant by the participation of a “citizens’ panel”. By whom will these “citizens” be chosen? How will they be chosen? How representative will they be? Finally, in the face of the economic crisis resulting from the health crisis, jobs are under pressure: there is a risk of an explosion of not only temporary, but long-term unemployment! This is why some people are calling for something more to be done in the second half of the year with more concrete actions that go beyond the exchange of letters and give more visibility to what the ETUC is doing. In his reply, the Secretary General agrees with all the interventions and the need to be more visible, but he adds, when we return to “face-to-face” meetings. As for the citizens’ panel, this raises questions. Isn’t it an open door to prejudices and populism? Following these exchanges, the three declarations were adopted. The next point concerns finance with three subjects to be dealt with. The first concerns the work to be undertaken at the ITUH. In view of the current state of the International Trade Union House, which has not undergone structural renovation since its construction in 1993, and the new environmental protection legislation being introduced in Brussels aimed at carbon neutral buildings, several scenarios were discussed and evaluated. The aim of this exercise is to find the most sustainable solution, – or by investing in the current building with substantial modifications to bring it into line with new environmental legislation, – or by selling the building and buying a new one that fully complies with all standards. The Executive Committee is invited to give a mandate to the ETUC General Secretary who represents the ETUC at the General Assembly of the International Trade Union House, which is the decision-making body, and to the President to take decisions concerning the future of the building. Regular reports on the progress of the project will be presented at each meeting of the Steering Committee and the Executive Committee. In the short debate that follows this information, several organisations regretted that it was not possible to discuss this subject at the last congress. To this the General Secretary replied that we did not know at that time that we would have problems. There is an urgent need, not only from a legal point of view but also for good management. The second subject was a request for a reduction from the European Federation of Journalists in the framework of the Pay Rise 2017 2020 campaign. This organisation has already paid 1,470.60 euros, half of what it still owes. The General Secretary of this organisation, Mr. Ricardo GUTIERREZ, pointed out that this campaign, which focuses on increasing salaries, is totally irrelevant in their sector where 30% of the members are freelancers and where employed journalists are fighting against the suppression of collective agreements, including on salaries. In view of the serious funding problems in the media industry, the priority in their sector is to maintain the current level of wages, not to increase them. However – even though their budget for campaigns and communication is 2,000 euros – the EFJ Steering Committee has nevertheless agreed in solidarity to finance the 2,941 ? 20 euros. The third issue also concerns a request for a reduction of UATUC/SSSH membership fees. The reasons put forward by this organisation are of different kinds and include the following: – On 22 March 2020, an earthquake damaged Zagreb and its surroundings and caused considerable damage to the organisation’s headquarters, estimated at 70,000 euros. – As a result of the corona crisis, UATUC/SSSH members lost their jobs or part of their income, which had a negative impact on the membership fees collected by the organisation. – The Croatian government refuses to solve a problem of trade union property, and in some cases it even confiscates union property or takes legal action against them. – UATUC/SSSH organised and co-financed a campaign against pension reform in 2019 which was a huge success, but also a huge financial burden. This organisation is asking for a reduction in their membership fees for 2019, while committing to pay their 2020 membership fees. Moreover, a first payment corresponding to the 1st semester of 2020 has indeed been paid by this organisation. Even if some organisations fear that these three cases might set precedents, these three requests are accepted by the Executive Committee. The ETUC President then gave the floor to Esther LYNCH, Deputy General Secretary of the ETUC, to present her Resolution on an EU funding instrument for the social partners, a document already discussed at the Virtual Executive Committee on 9 June (see my report at the time). As a reminder, following the unprecedented crisis of COVID 19 and its subsequent economic consequences, there is no doubt that it will have a negative impact on the financial situation of the social partners. The lack of sufficient means will make it more difficult for them to fully play their role. To combat this development, the ETUC calls on the Commission to establish a financial instrument for affiliates in response to the impact of the pandemic, it being understood that this new financial instrument should be in addition to and not replace the current Social Dialogue budget lines and the need for increased support from the European Social Fund (ESF) in countries where social partner structures are less solid. This new fund should as a priority provide temporary financial support to national social partner organisations in need as a result of the crisis. It is essential, however, that the conditions of access to funding do not interfere with the autonomy of the organisations concerned. In the debate that followed this presentation, the intervening organisations were in favour of the note, which had been improved compared to the one presented in June, but all insisted on the need to preserve the autonomy of the social partners. Some also questioned whether the ETUC would have a say in the requests. Finally, others insist that for some organisations it is a question of survival in a context of general austerity. In her reply, Esther clarified that requests will not go through the ETUC, affiliates will deal directly with the Commission. Nor will the ETUC verify the correct use of funds. However, the ETUC will make sure that there is European added value. It will therefore only provide technical assistance to the social partners at European level. It will therefore only be an associated partner. The resolution was adopted unanimously minus one abstention (FO-France). Then, the Executive Committee is invited to approve the documents presented for the ETUI GA and on the recruitment of its new director: unanimous adoption. The floor was then given to Ludovic VOET, Confederal Secretary, for the presentation of his Draft Resolution on Strengthening the European Youth Guarantee: Rethinking the fight against youth unemployment. The Resolution presented is intended to provide an analysis of the current programme with the experience of ETUC members and recommendations for further measures to strengthen the programme, but also in view of the new emergencies related to the pandemic. The Youth Guarantee launched 12 years ago is a structural framework to curb youth unemployment and inactivity. ETUC members have identified, as have independent evaluators, major shortcomings in its implementation: – Poor quality of the offers provided (traineeships, fixed-term contracts, temporary work, etc.) – Challenges in being able to provide a timely offer within 4 months – Poor outreach strategies to deliver the Youth Guarantee Programme to young people who have the most difficulty entering the labour market (NETT). For the ETUC the Youth Guarantee Programme must be able to contribute to the creation of quality jobs and bring stability for young people, in particular through the creation of synergies with other European initiatives such as the European Social Rights Foundation, the Skills Strategy, the European Minimum Wage Initiative and the Green Pact for Europe; The ETUC calls for the investment of appropriate financial resources from European and national budgets to achieve a real integration of vulnerable young people in a rapidly changing labour market… The European Employment Initiative needs to be reoriented as a dedicated channel for a group of actors (including PES, trade unions and NGOs) to implement crisis intervention and prevention. In the debate that followed this presentation, the intervening organisations agreed with the Resolution as a whole, even if some felt that the focus on the youth guarantee, which has had positive results in some places, should be qualified, or that the issue of students should be included. Many insist that it is essential in the Resolution to strengthen the role of the social partners. In the end, the Resolution was adopted unanimously. The next item on the agenda is also a Draft Resolution for the integration of migrants and the consolidation of the UnionMigrantNet network. It is also presented by Ludovic VOET. The aim is to adapt last December’s resolution by adopting an additional position for the protection of migrants and their integration in Europe and beyond. It aims to further strengthen the UnionMigrantNet Network (UMN) as a European network of trade unions, migrant organisations and associations promoted by trade unions. This network offers assistance to migrants while at the same time having a dual function: it serves as an instrument of cooperation between its members and is a source of information and assistance for the migrant population through its advisory structures (contact points). In the debate that follows, while some people welcome the content of the document, others regret that there is no political positioning or would like to see an evaluation of the project, which has already been launched and therefore will not be called into question. Still others stress the importance of the UMN Network: migrant people receive support in defending their rights and information. Finally, some indicate that the governance of the network must be transparent and fall under the coordination of national trade unions. In his reply, Ludovic pointed out that it is indeed a question of clarifying how we work with the Network, which is not “the political arm of the ETUC”. It is also necessary to specify the actions that we want to undertake with the UMN. He also agreed to provide for evaluations and to integrate indicators, which had been requested in the debate. With these clarifications, the document was adopted unanimously, except for two organisations (CC. OO and CGIL). The next document submitted for discussion concerns the EU instruments for a minimum income scheme, the cornerstone of an EU anti-poverty and social inclusion strategy. It is presented by Liina CARR, Confederal Secretary. The paper presented aims to establish a basis for discussion for ETUC action on minimum income and other integrated steps to respond to the crisis of poverty and social exclusion. Building on the acquis of the Union, when the ETUC speaks of a minimum income, it is for the ETUC a fundamental right as defined in Principle 14 of the European Social Rights Core Document. Income support systems (ISS) are based on a combination of cash benefits, enabling goods and services and incentives to enter the labour market (for those who are able to work), access to which is subject to conditionalities, including a social survey, and which must be adequate, accessible and enabling. This must be an essential element for upward social convergence around which to develop a multidimensional anti-poverty strategy aimed at ensuring the right to adequate resources to enable all citizens to live in dignity at all stages of their lives, including in retirement. In the discussion, the aim is to identify areas where ETUC members agree. It is also clear that minimum income is never a subsidy to compensate for low wages. The discussion paper therefore tries to cover all the issues. In the debate that followed this presentation several organisations welcomed the discussion and seemed to agree with the overall content of the document. However, several emphasised, and this was particularly the view of the Nordic trade unions, that the introduction of this minimum income should not be binding. Others question how it should be financed. Some regret that there is no non-regression clause. Finally, several ask that we be very precise in our demands and that we correctly identify the legal arguments. FERPA Secretary General Agostino SICILIANO intervened in the debate to say that for FERPA this issue was very important, even if it was more focused on the world of work. Poverty among the elderly is “historical”. Older people were vulnerable long before the pandemic. A minimum income for “anyone” means including everyone. But we need to find a formulation that allows us pensioners to be explicitly included. The level of retirement is linked to employment, this is very important. For FERPA this document is very complete and it supports it. In her reply, Liina again stresses that these are extremely important issues. The aim is not to harmonise the systems but to achieve a certain level of protection. As for how to achieve this, it is up to the Member States to do so. Further discussion is needed on where to strengthen the fundamental points. We need to know on what legal bases to build. The German colleagues in the framework of the EU Presidency for the next six months are already working on this. Isabelle SCHÖMANN, Confederal Secretary, then took the floor to resume the discussion on the document “Position on the new industrial strategy for Europe”. This document had already been presented before the confinement period. It was broadly welcomed with certain clarifications, however. Thus, some stressed that there were also other challenges to be taken into account, such as relocation, not only of industries but also, and too often, of workers, or the introduction of fair tax systems. Others ask that when talking about a “Green Pact” one should not forget to add “and social”. It is also necessary to protect the mining sector and its workers when talking about “decarbonisation”. We have to be realistic in this area, even if it is important to have a strong industrial policy in Europe. In response, Isabelle thanked the members for their very constructive comments, which for her did not present any particular problems. We have a “robust text”, she said, which can serve as a basis for future interventions. With the exception of Solidarnosc, this text was unanimously approved. The next item is a proposal for a Resolution on Artificial Intelligence and the European strategy on digital data, also presented by Isabelle SCHÖMANN, Confederal Secretary. With the COVID 19 crisis, there is even more talk about Artificial Intelligence, which certainly offers opportunities for workers but also presents risks. The European Union must be the driving force of Artificial Intelligence that protects workers. We must have a European framework based on human rights that goes beyond the General Data Protection Regulation. The evaluation of the speakers on this document is largely positive. However, the outsourcing of data by the private sector should not be ignored, as some pointed out. Data protection needs to be well framed and the issue of cybercrime needs to be further explored. When we talk about risk assessment, we need to include health and safety aspects. We must prevent the occurrence of risks such as wear and tear or those related to mental health, such as mental fatigue. In his reply, after again thanking the speakers and assuring that the document will be improved thanks to the various contributions. With these clarifications, the document was adopted unanimously. The next point dealt with is certainly the most important and, historically, the most thorny one discussed at this Executive Committee, since it is the ETUC’s Draft ETUC response to the Second stage consultation of the social partners under Article 154 TFEU on possible action to meet the challenges of a fair minimum wage. It was presented by Esther LYNCH, Deputy General Secretary of the ETUC. It is specified that this document presented to the Executive Committee will be submitted for adoption by written procedure. The ETUC reminds the European Commission that the EU Treaties prohibit it from setting pay levels. However, this does not prevent the EU from taking action to address the challenges of establishing fair wages by preventing abusive working conditions and promoting collective bargaining. The ETUC calls on the Commission to bring forward a framework directive with the principle that Member States may not set their legal minimum wages below a threshold of 60% of the median wage and 50% of the average wage, based on a full-time basis. Where wages are set by Member States, they must be set in agreement with the social partners. The Commission must put an end to unfair practices between Member States and sanction those who refuse to negotiate or apply collective agreements. Everyone must be involved, including young people. Finally, the ETUC calls for an end to negative court rulings by proposing a social progress protocol to protect collective bargaining and agreements and the autonomy of the social partners. And the EU and the European Court of Justice should not be able to intervene in collective bargaining. In the long debate that follows, the usual divide comes into play : – On the one hand, the Nordic trade unions are united in saying that they share the objective of fair wages for workers and that the best way to achieve this is through collective bargaining. They are very disappointed by this response from the ETUC, which is calling for a framework directive, as such a directive would undermine their collective bargaining power. – On the other hand, almost all the other organisations, including the European Federations, welcomed the quality of the document, which they considered to be very balanced, stressing in particular the emphasis placed on a clause guaranteeing collective bargaining. Several appealed, thus to unity and democracy: submission to majority decision. In her reply, Esther recalled the Congress Manifesto: this is one of the priorities. The Commission asks a question, it must be answered. The wording of our reply will not weaken us or mark a step backwards. It is made clear that it is neither about harmonising wages at European level nor about interfering in wage bargaining. The Directive must tackle bad practices. We need a clear legislative text so that the European Court of Justice can no longer challenge our agreements. The vote, by written procedure, must be sent by midnight on 2 September at the latest, as the ETUC must reply to the Commission by 4 September. Concluding this debate, ETUC President Laurent BERGER called for ETUC unity, which does not mean uniformity, he said. The President then invited Liina CARR to present her discussion paper on the European Commission’s action plan for democracy. The European Commission will present an action plan for democracy in Europe in the 4th quarter of 2020. The Commissioner responsible, Vice-President JOUROVA, indicated that this will be “a response to the threats to our democracies including misinformation and interference in elections” and “to strengthen the media sector, make platforms more accountable and protect our democratic process”. The ETUC calls for a Democracy Action Plan that commits the European Commission to monitor and use all its powers to support the rule of law and the independence of non-political institutions, including the judiciary and the media in all EU Member States. The ETUC also calls for a Regulation for social networking platforms. The purpose of the discussion is therefore to “put on the table” the main elements. In the debate that follows, the organisations rather welcome this document and find it particularly important to insist on “the rule of law”. It is important to add to the discussion the protection of journalists. In her reply, Liina thanked the speakers and reminded them that this is above all a discussion paper in order to have a more general document covering all the policies that concern the trade union world. Isabelle SCHÖMANN, Confederal Secretary, was then again invited by the President to present her document “A new European framework for information, consultation and representation rights of workers in administrative/supervisory boards”. Isabelle pointed out that this is a working instrument following the COVID crisis 19 and that it appears more necessary than ever for the ETUC to improve the legal framework in this area. This document is therefore a plea for better rights and for the revision of the European Works Council Directive. The debate also focuses on the scope of application, which must be clear and the effectiveness of the instruments in place must be guaranteed. In the debate the organisations appreciate the document as a good basis for discussion and believe that it highlights our demands. Some insist that the representatives in EWCs should be appointed by the trade union organisations and that a distinction should be made between shareholder representatives and employee representatives. In her response, Isabelle recognises that concrete action should be taken for workers. The objective is the respect of rights especially in the case of restructuring. This must be continued. As far as the revision of the Directive is concerned, the Commission has already put its finger on the shortcomings that we ourselves had already mentioned. Liina CARR, Confederal Secretary, introduced the following discussion on “ETUC Evaluation of the country recommendations and the 2020 cycle of the European Semester”. This evaluation takes place in a particular context, that of the COVID 19 crisis and the ensuing containment, which has had terrible consequences in terms of economic recession, unemployment, worsening labour conditions and rights, increased inequalities and social exclusion. The Commission took into account some of the trade unions’ recommendations (50% were taken into account). But on the negative side, health and safety in the workplace is not mentioned. In the small debate that follows, the trade unions recognise the ETUC’s commitment to making a more social European Semester and underline the role it has played in coordinating affiliates, but some organisations do not share the optimistic vision and centralising strengthening of the Semester. Liina replied that it is true that we are living in an exceptional moment. In the autumn, as ETUC, we will present a position paper to say what the Semester should be. European Governance must respond to the needs. She also admits that a more critical attitude should be taken. Two different points are dealt with at the end of the meeting: – Firstly, Esther LYNCH informed the Committee that the Commission had asked Eurofound to carry out a study on the representativeness of the social partners in the Social Dialogue. Eurofound will contact each affiliate. Luca intervened to say that it is important for everyone to respond to Eurofound. – Luca then indicated that he had invited Michel Barnier to the next Steering Committee meeting on 23 September, which will be transformed into a virtual Extraordinary Executive Committee depending on the subjects on the agenda. A final point of information presented by Luca concerned the ETUC Summer University which could take place on 25 and 26 October in Berlin, provided that the organisations are able to travel, otherwise the date will be postponed. The German Minister of Labour was due to intervene to present his country’s priorities for the six-month EU Presidency, but he was unable to do so and it was the Secretary General of the DGB who briefly intervened. The President closed the meeting by thanking the participants and the interpreters and wishing everyone a good holiday, despite the circumstances.