EU Social Dialogue Committee
On Thursday 9th February 2012 MUBE General Secretary Dr. Adrian Borg LL.D. attended and participated in a meeting of the EU Social Dialogue Committee on behalf of the Confederation of Malta Trade Unions (CMTU) – this Committee brings together representatives of the European Trade Unions and employers’ organizations, these two entities in EU jargon are called the social partners. It is pertinent to note that through these social dialogue meetings the social partners have managed to negotiate a considerable number of autonomous agreements at European level which they implement themselves, and in the same way in which a private writing would be legally binding between the parties to the agreement. Some of the agreements between the social partners have been transformed into binding EU legislation.
The European Commission via its Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, promotes social dialogue in the EU. European social dialogue is a term that is used to describe the vast network of discussions, negotiations, consultations and joint actions or any other type of intercourse between the two sides of industry – employers and workers. There are two main forms of social dialogue – a tripartite social dialogue that also includes public/governmental/EU authorities, and a bipartite social dialogue involving European employers and trade union organizations.
The above-mentioned meeting was held as part of the bipartite social dialogue that takes place at cross-industry levels, as in this case and with sectoral social dialogue committees for sectors such as banking and insurance – MUBE officials have often attended and participated in these sectoral social dialogue committees. European social dialogue has resulted in over 300 joint texts issued by the European social partners that are contained in a database.
The morning session started with both sides meeting separately, the Employers’ group meeting was held at the ‘Business Europe’ Head office in Brussels, whilst the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) meeting was held at the Centre Borschette. These separate meetings allow the social partners to discuss the issues that are currently on the table in order to agree on a common position before meeting the other party. The CMTU and MUBE official was present for this meeting as a representative of Maltese trade unions.
The workers’ session was opened by Patrick Itschert, the Deputy Secretary General of ETUC who gave an overview of the agenda to be discussed in the Plenary Session – a discussion ensued amongst the various representatives of trade unions from nearly all the EU Member States on how the workers’ side was going to act in the Plenary meeting – amongst the topics discussed were the new Working Time Directive (WTD) and how the ETUC was going to tackle the problem of opt-outs, particularly by the United Kingdom and Malta. At this juncture Adrian Borg intervened and explained the reasons for the Maltese opt-out with particular reference to the work ethic that prevails in Malta that is more akin to that of a Northern European country rather than a country in Southern Europe. In addition, the average Maltese salary was still very low when compared to that of the leading EU Member States and has to be supplemented with overtime and extra part-time work – this is why public opinion in Malta is still stacked against the introduction of the WTD.
The issue of jobs for young people was also discussed at length and in great detail – a Spanish trade unionist explained that in Spain youth unemployment amounted to a staggering 45% – certainly an unacceptable figure, apart from this there was a ‘youth brain drain’ in the Iberian peninsula as a lot of Spanish young people who are educated and trained in Spain are travelling to countries such as Germany in order to compete for better paid jobs. The Spanish trade unionist added that Spain does not need more training and education for young people but higher salaries and jobs to keep Spanish youth living and working in Spain. The Spanish representative asked who gave the mandate to the troika composed of the IMF, the EU Commission and the EU Central Bank to impose such stringent austerity measure on Spain, Greece and other EU Member States.
In this meeting, the Social Dialogue Work-plan for 2012-2014 was also discussed and a proposal for the Social Dialogue ad hoc working group was proposed. A member from ETUC asked all the participants present to prepare their reports on Harassment and Violence at the place of work and to submit them by 14th May 2012 in order for the ETUC to prepare a joint report on this subject.
The Plenary session where the social partners meet in a bipartite meeting was held in the afternoon with the following agenda:
1. An annual review of Employment and Social developments in Europe;
2. An exchange of views on these EU initiatives:
i. Youth Opportunities Initiative (adopted on 20.12.2011);
ii. Employment Package (to be adopted in Spring 2012).
The Social partners were also given an update on the following topics:
a. Green Paper on Restructuring;
b. White Paper on Pensions;
c. Posting of Workers;
d. Quality of work – streamlining the policy concept and review of indicators.
This well-attended meeting of the social partners started with the adoption of the agenda and approval of minutes of the last meeting held on 27th October 2011. A representative of the EU Commission from DG Employment opened the meeting and explained how the meeting would proceed.
The social partners informed the Commission representative that they had agreed on a Draft Work Program on Social Dialogue that included the following eight (8)points:
a. Youth Unemployment (2012)
b. In-depth employment analysis (2013)
c. Gender Equality
d. Education and Life Long Learning (LLL)
e. Mobility and Economic Migration
f. Better implementation and impact of Social Dialogue Instruments
g. Capacity of Social Partners Organizations
h. Economic and Social governance of the EU
A presentation by Mr. Strauss from the EU Commission followed on the subject of Social Developments in Europe in 2011, a 300-page report was also drawn up by the Commission on the subject focusing on the following topics:
1. Shifts in Job Structures;
2. Income inequalities in the EU;
3. Poverty and Social Exclusion;
4. Work poverty (poverty of people who are in work but still cannot cope);
5. Positive Ageing;
6. Workers’ mobility after enlargement.
According to this speaker, the current economic scenario in the EU is displaying a timid recovery in employment growth led by the creation of temporary contracts (precarious work). This phenomenon was also present before the crisis struck, in fact the period between 2006/2007 also showed an increase and a proliferation of temporary contracts of employment. The study also clearly demonstrates an increase in income inequalities with an increase in income polarization – higher paid jobs were increasing and middle-wage jobs were decreasing – thus resulting in an erosion of the standard of living of the middle class of workers. Another important point that emerged from this study is that the exit age from the labour market increased in all Member States during the last decade. In addition, the category that suffered most during the crisis is that of young people who were severely impacted by job losses and unemployment in general.
The end result of all this was that jobless households were also negatively affected by the crisis – the most vulnerable groups were working families with young children, old people and the above-mentioned young adults who were mostly affected by unemployment. It is pertinent to note that the jobless household figures were mostly present in the Baltic States, Spain and Ireland. Another worrying statistic that is presenting itself in the current EU employment scenario is that of in-work poverty – these are individuals who are working but are not coping with the cost of living, this phenomenon is once again mostly prevalent in families with young children where only one parent is working.
Later on in the afternoon another presentation was made by the Commission on the initiatives being taken in the Employment policy arena. The representative of the Commission explained in great detail the workings of the Youth Opportunities Initiative adopted by the Commission on 20th December 2011.
Another discussion centered on the White Paper on Pensions – this is a follow-up to the Green Paper on pensions adopted in 2010. Pensions are becoming a major concern in the EU due to the effects of the economic and sovereign debt crisis with the impact these are having on the short-term and long-term stability of public finances. It is becoming increasingly obvious that in the very near future, Europeans will have to work more and save more for their retirement as people are living longer and the proportion between those of active age and those of retirement age is increasing steadily.
The Social Dialogue Committee then adjourned to another date to be announced later.