Friday, 30 May 2008

A New Future for Collective Bargaining in the EU?


Many of you will be familiar with the worrying trend within the EU reduce the protection for workers arising from situations where they work across European borders but are denied standards terms and conditons within existing collective bargaining agreements in their host country.

The infamous Bolkenstein directive attempted to create a single market for services within the EU to mirror the single market for goods. This would have made uniform a situation where, for example, Slovenian carpenters contracted to work in the UK would have been paid at Slovenian rates.

Although Bolkenstein failed in his movement for the adoption of a directive that would have built this concept a series of cases at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have effectively stated that the right of employers to bid for work and supply labour within the EU supercedes the rights of workers to protection from exploitation and abuse.

The Laval, Ruffert and Viking cases have all set down judgements that have undermined the right, for example, of trade unions to strike against the undermining of existing terms and conditions through the use of labour employed from outside their country and paid at significantly lower rates.

A summary of each case and the ECJ judgement can be found on the web site of the European Trade Union Confederation:

There is some good news however, outlined via the link above, where the European Parliament has just agreed to review the principles of strengthening collective agreements on the basis of minimising attempts to use secondary labour to undermine them.

It is possible however, given the EU's Social Agenda and Lisbon Strategy that we don't get an absolute rejection of Bolkenstein-like labour supply across the EU. The wider agenda of the EU is currently built around concepts like 'flexicurity' and there are many in the movement who feel that you cannot accommodate a position to defend the needs of workers with the EU's significant criteria of enabling the free movement and goods and services.

Please have a look at the ETUC material and post replies.

Best wishes


Peter said...


I remember the Viking Line case distinctly as I did a course at Eastbourne and the tutor had a good article from LRD that she used to illustrate this trend as a feature of globalisation.

And I think that globalisation will be the thing that leads to more and more situations where national or even local agreements are undermined to enable private contractors to bid for work (and win) paying lower wages and other providing less decent terms.

When CCT first came into local government this was how work was won wasn't in? So why, on a European and global level won't employers seek to do exactly the same thing?

Governments could resist; but they won't.


Peter said...

What a lot youve written this time and I had to read it twice to understand it!

I had a look at one of the cases where Poles were working in Germany at nearly 50% less than they should have been.

You can only see this ending in a situation where one group of workers take it out an another - even though it is the EU and the employers who are at fault.


Peter said...

Hello Ian,

As we have previously discussed, In Africa a free market exists that leaves workers wholly unprotected from exploitation like that you refer to.

Although it is not a perfect example of what you are writing about what is happening in South Africa currently to non-SA workers illustrates what happens when a range of factors push workers across borders to seek work.

As with what has been happening in the UK it is partly the role of trade unions to organise these workers and also to legitimise their presence in the eyes of indigenous workers.

I do not feel well placed to speak about the situation in the UK and EU but part of the answer again has to be better organisation within and across countries so that you know where the exploitation is occuring and you can challenge it.

Fraternal Wishes

Peter Chigana

Ian Manborde said...

Hi Peter,

Good to hear from you and thanks for your contribution.

I think your SA example is interesting as it links in with what Peter Eden said in his earlier post about the social implications of migration and the potential backlash from indigenous workers.

The trade union movement has, as you know, undertaken some useful work here. However, the overall political climate in the UK is increasingly hostile to migrant workers and although we have seen nothing on the current scale in SA there are mainly examples of abuse and intimidation.

Your overall prescription is the right one in the sense of greater trade union collaboration across borders within the EU.

The problem however is that whilst this slowly occurs the changes in migration, patterns of labour supply and use and overall economic change, happens at a much greater pace.

Thanks again for your contribution and please continue to add your comments on the blog.

Best wishes


Nobert said...

and this is another bit of crap - who set up this blo?

the real world is capitalism - its creates money and thats that