More flexible industrial relations

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) has just published a report on labour relations in the candidate countries as compared with those of the Union of 15.

The following conclusions may be drawn from this report:

Both trade unions and employers’ organisations are much less structured in the candidate countries than in the EUl The rate of unionisation is much lower there, on weighted average 21.9% as against 30.4%.l In five of the candidate countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia), a single trade union dominates the landscape, compared with two in Poland. In the other countries, they are numerous (as many as 6 in Hungary) and not very influential. The majority of the trade union organisations in the candidate countries belong to the European Trade Union Confederation. The rate of unionisation is declining, sometimes rather sharply. The employers’ organisations are also very scattered. The European employers’ organisation – UNICE – accepted the membership of local employers’ organisations in Cyprus, Malta, Poland and the Slovak Republic. It also has “observer” members in Estonia and Lithuania.

The term “industrial relations” covers two main concepts: collective bargaining and employee participation. Two preliminary remarks on this point: on the one hand, the acquis communautaire which the applicant countries must adopt is very limited on these subjects and thus harmonisation will be only partial. In addition, the level of regulation in two Member States (Great Britain and Ireland) is very low, in general lower than that in force in the candidate countries.

The collective bargaining of terms and conditions of employment is not very developped in the candidate countries. The latter will of course have to apply the scant European Directives on the subject, which have legalised agreements concluded at European level (parental leave, part-time working, short term employment contracts, teleworking) or which deal with specific matters (civil aviation, maritime transport). But the number of workers whose conditions of employment are determined at least partially by a collective agreement is much lower in the candidate countries than in the EU of 15, except for Slovenia. And the scope of the collective bargaining, where it exists, is much more limited, particularly as regards pay. In a word, the freedom on the part of both the employer and the employee to negotiate terms and conditions of employment is much greater in the CEEC than in Western Europe.

Worker participation, in particular the existence of works councils, is little developed in the candidate countries. The acquis communautaire is still limited there. A recent Directive, which is being implemented gradually, requires that companies with more than 50 employees provide rights of information and consultation to the workers’ representatives. It will apply to the new member states and should lead to improved employee participation, as compared to the current situation in the candidate countries, where there are no structures comparable with the works councils of continental Europe, except in Hungary and Slovenia. In the Slovak and Czech Republics, employee representative bodies exist, but with restricted abilities.

For more analyses, see the

enlargement website of DREE.  

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