Workers’ involvement should not be ‘decorative’ in coronavirus recovery, expert says

For Béla Galgóczi, there is a meaningful difference when workers' perspectives are considered in all parts of the policymaking process, not just as an add-on. [Shutterstock | Blue Planet Studio]

If EU leaders agree on the EU’s seven-year budget and the recovery fund on Friday (17 July), this could facilitate the transition to a more modern and greener Europe. But labour representatives also want to ensure that workers have a say in the entire policymaking process

It’s been nearly a month and a half since Commission President Ursula von der Leyen rolled out the executive’s plan for an EU coronavirus recovery fund. Many now hope that national leaders will be able to reach an agreement on this fund as well as on the budget at a summit beginning on Friday.

Among the hopeful are many of Europe’s trade unions.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) called the proposal “a significant step in the right direction” and urged leaders to quickly adopt it, saying that their calculations showed 42 million European jobs were on the line.

IndustriAll Europe, an association of industry unions, had a straightforward message for the European Council: “Adopt the proposed EU recovery plan! Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the last crisis and revert to austerity.”

EU budget plan falls far short on climate goals, researchers say

A European Commission proposal for the European Union’s long-term budget and recovery fund risks leaving a huge shortfall in the “green” investment needed to meet Europe’s climate goals, researchers said on Tuesday (14 July).

Workers’ involvement in climate policymaking

A core component of both the budget and recovery plan, as well as a major issue for many trade unions, is the push for a greener European economy.

The Commission’s initial proposal had 25% allotted to climate action. An updated proposal by European Council President Charles Michel would have this at 30%. Von der Leyen has also previously promised to put the European Green Deal at the centre of Europe’s coronavirus recovery.

For Béla Galgóczi, senior researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), this emphasis on climate was a welcome change from the initial handling of the crisis. “It was a surprise. It was not really expected at this magnitude […] especially after the initial postponing of long-term issues,” he told EURACTIV in an interview. 

Yet, a focus on climate alone is not sufficient, Galgóczi highlighted.

“The trade unions want to avoid that [worker involvement] is an add-on or a decorative element in any climate package,” he explained. Worker participation in all parts of the policymaking process ensures better outcomes, he added.  

While the pandemic has brought about many political changes, he is not optimistic that it will bring more workers’ participation in climate-related policymaking. 

“Even if we have nice principles and a good legal basis, workers’ participation and the broader just transition framework didn’t become an integral part of the complete climate policy framework,” he said and added:

“There has been some progress on this…the different DG’s are much more involved, but we still didn’t go as far as to have the employment part included everywhere.”

European Works Councils advocate a just transition into the future of work

In some ways, the future of work is already here, as digitisation and the drive to decarbonise have begun to change the face of employment. With radical changes to the workplace on the horizon, labour unions and other worker representatives want to chart a path that makes the transition fair for all involved.

A boosted, but limited Just Transition Fund

As part of the EU’s recovery plan, the Commission pledged to increase the Just Transition Fund five-fold to an impressive €40 billion with €30 billion coming from the recovery fund and €10 billion from the EU budget.

The announcement garnered praise from environmentalists and politicians alike. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared the move “very good news” at the time.

Galgóczi was also pleased with the announcement but was quick to highlight the problems with the fund, including a lack of consideration of how the impacts are spread.

“If you want to have ambitious climate policies […] then the effects on different layers of society are not fair and you have to take care of these distributional effects,” he said.

The researcher also questioned the fund’s priorities. “It is focussed on a small part of what was meant by just transition […] namely on regional restructuring and specifically in coal areas. So this is particularly a coal fund” he asserted.

While this is an important part, Galgóczi said, this leaves out major industries that are not classified as ‘energy-intensive.’

One example is the automobile industry, which will clearly have to undergo drastic changes in the green transition but is not really addressed in the fund. Galgóczi attributes this oversight to workers’ perspectives simply being considered as an “add-on.”

The industry has already warned of possible massive job cuts ahead.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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