Social partners divided over EU action
By Sophie Petitjean | Tuesday 10 April 2012
The European social partners disagree over the role the EU should play to reduce the harmful consequences of corporate restructuring (reorganisation, shutdown, merger, acquisition, redundancies, outsourcing or relocation of a company). The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) demands concrete action to set up a solid legal framework while the European private employers’ federation, Business-Europe, is opposed to any additional EU obligations. This is what emerges from the European Commission’s public consultation on anticipating change, which closed on 30 March.
For BusinessEurope, it is important to avoid a top-down approach that obliges companies and other players to adopt rigid “good practices” identified at EU level. In its response to the consultation, the organisation states that the social consequences of restructuring must be managed locally and that employers and employees at company level are in the best position to hold discussions and negotiate effective solutions. It adds that an appropriate EU legal framework on worker consultation and information is already in place. “Rather than trying to develop a specific framework for restructuring, the Commission should focus on improving the integration of policies that facilitate industrial adjustment and smooth job transitions. An effective policy response to restructuring challenges requires an integrated approach covering multiple policy areas (eg employment, education, innovation and industrial policies) as well as close cooperation between various Commission directorates-general,” writes BusinessEurope.
European trade unions sing a different tune, regretting the Commission’s lack of ambition. “After a decade of consultations (in 2002 and 2005), European projects and hand-wringing at the sight of large-scale uncoordinated restructuring, the green paper effectively puts ‘old wine into new bottles’. […] It is time for action on the right to training, stronger worker participation and an industrial policy agenda promoting innovation and job creation.” The ETUC identifies five key elements of a European framework on anticipating change: 1. education and training for preparing and enabling workers; 2. the key role of industrial policy for maintaining and creating jobs; 3. information, consultation and participation; 4. collective bargaining; and 5. active labour market policies, social protection and support measures. The organisation calls in particular for employee representatives to be given a voice on matters of investment, production, innovation and R&D spending, as well as general corporate economic, social and environmental management. The unions also underline the need for support mechanisms for workers who fall victim to economic change, adequate social protection during the period of unemployment and the search for a new job, health and safety and gender impact assessments of restructuring plans, an active search for alternatives to redundancies, tailor-made measures in the areas of job counselling, training and support in finding a new job, placements in another company, and support for the creation of new activities with access to necessary loans.
From 2002 to 2010, more than 11,000 cases of restructuring were registered by the European Restructuring Monitor, with a ratio of two jobs created for one job lost. From 2008 to 2010, this ratio rose to two and a half to one.
The results of the consultation will provide input for the “revived flexicurity agenda” set to be presented on 18 April as part of the employment package.
The ETUC demands concrete action to set up a solid legal framework while BusinessEurope is opposed to any additional EU obligations