In a statement to the European Parliament on 8 May 2008, Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimír Špidla said that Brussels will go ahead with the revision of the European Works Council (EWC) directive even if the European Trade Union Confederation continues to block social partners’ negotiations on the matter.
Trade unions and the Commission agree that there are numerous problems with EWC under the present directive:
- Failures to transpose the directive (see ‘Background’);
- a lack of legal certainty on companies’ obligations;
- a lack of cross-border dialogue, and;
- the weak position of EWC as compared to national-level works councils.
Most of these problems were already mentioned in the Commission’s first report on the application of the directive, in 2000. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has been pressing since 2004 for a review of the EWC Directive. However, ETUC recently said it was unwilling to continue negotiations on EWC with social partners, arguing that, given the differences with BusinessEurope, the schedule proposed by the Commission did not leave enough time.
BusinessEurope, which represents most transnational entreprises in Europe, had rejected talks with social partners on a revision for a long time before it finally gave in and decided to co-operate after the Commission took the intitiative – announcing a review with a social partners consultation, which started on 20 February 2008.
In spite of its resistance to social partner talks on EWC at this point in time, ETUC started a campaign in favour of stronger European Works Councils. In particular, the trade union confederation asks for:
- A clearer definition of information and consultation;
- a redefinition of the notion of confidentiality to ensure for example that EWC members are not prevented from communicating with their trade unions;
- a reduction of the period allowed for negotiating agreements, from three years to one year;
- a framework of sanctions for companies that breach their obligations with respect to EWC;
- a legal right for workers’ representatives to challenge breaches of agreements;
- the right to training for EWC members – covering languages and economic, financial and social affairs;
- better access to expert advice;
- the right to hold preparatory and follow-up meetings, and;
- the right for EWC members to enter company sites.
While most of these concerns are reflected in the Commission’s proposals, ETUC insists that the time left for negotiations would make a substantial agreement with BusinessEurope impossible.