Strengthening collective bargaining throughout the EU is essential. Increasing union power to bargain for better pay and jobs will benefit workers and their families and communities along with businesses, the economy and society. It is a necessary ingredient for the EU 'social market economy'. Achieving better wages for workers throughout Europe calls for more coordinated action among and between trade unions. This resolution sets out the ETUC priorities for coordination of collective bargaining and wages for the 2018/2019 period. Four priorities arise from an in-depth analysis of national trends and trade union demands collected through reports from national affiliates on their strategies for collective bargaining and wages and, when indicated, from other official sources such as the EU and the OECD.
The ETUC and its member organisations consider vital the need to reinforce collective bargaining in order to boost an upward convergence of wages and working conditions among EU countries, to reduce inequalities among and within companies, regions and sectors, as well as to combat in-work poverty by leveraging on increasing solidarity among workers and removing all discriminatory gaps.
PRIORITY 1: Building, re-building and enhancing free and autonomous collective bargaining
Policies pursued by the EU in a number of Member States have contributed to the decline in the number of workers benefiting from a collective agreement. The push towards company level bargaining, the creation of opening clauses and the removal of legal frameworks for extending collective agreements across sectors and industries have contributed to a growing imbalance of power in workplaces and in the EU economy. This hostile environment should now be reversed. Building on the new social contract of the European Pillar of Social Rights EU policy must change direction towards strengthening and rebuilding trade union collective bargaining, in particular on sectoral level.
We are calling on Member States to:
- Reinforce or introduce, through social dialogue, frameworks at national level for coordinated systems of collective bargaining which are conducive to negotiations, particularly at sector level, for wage increases and improvement of working conditions. Within this framework and where trade unions wish so, the ETUC will support its national affiliates to secure the ratification of ILO Convention 1981 No.154, in order to create conditions for the promotion of collective bargaining;
- Establish through social dialogue, targets for increasing the number of workers covered by a collective agreement, including low paying sectors and platform economy sectors regardless of their employment status. The aim should be to increase overall coverage in all Member States and in all sectors. Set a base line target so that no EU Member State has less than 60% of the workforce covered by a collective agreement by 2025;
- The EU should introduce a fund to help Member States and the Social Partners to build systems for social dialogue, industrial relations and sectoral collective bargaining;
- Trade unions should inform the ETUC Collective Bargaining and Wages Coordination Committee (CBWCC) no later than February 2019 their priorities and actions for increasing collective bargaining in their Member State.
Cross-border solidarity has to be built within common action programmes. It is a priority especially today since, within integrated economies, the effects of local decisions spill over into other Member States and erode solidarity among workers. In order to reach such objectives, trade unions will work together, under the coordination of the CBWCC, with the aim of:
- Creating frameworks at national level that promote and support the negotiation and extension of collective agreements. The EU-funded project “Capacity Building for Collective Bargaining” – involving the ETUC, CBWCC, ETUFs and national trade union organisations – will run as a pilot action and will contribute to implement such a strategy;
- Developing better cross-border coordination of collective bargaining and wage policies, while respecting the autonomy of the national social partners. This needs to include a strategy to build more effective trade union bargaining power in countries where they are weaker. The ETUC Collective Bargaining Summer School (Trade Unions Without Borders) in July 2018 will hold a first discussion on how to implement this strategy in practical terms. The main idea is to increase the strength of unions in countries that have very weak protections and support upward convergence of wages and working conditions. There are some existing polices and in cooperation with ETUFs and IRTUCs, it is high time to reinforce all those cross-border practices so that we can create more momentum for transnational solidarity among workers and their unions which are able to promote upward convergence of wages and working conditions in Europe, starting from multinational companies and the relevant sectoral agreement. The ETUC, in coordination with the ETUFs, will launch an internal discussion on the inclusion of clauses in company or sectoral level agreements that companies will bargain with the relevant trade union in every member state.
PRIORITY 2: pursuing an upward wage and social convergence through enhanced collective bargaining.
Wages are underperforming. Growth in real wages is crucial to reduce inequalities and ensure decent and improving standards of living. Trade unions will continue to promote upward wage convergence in order to close the gap among workers who are being employed within the same production cycle and achieving the same level of productivity yet suffer from unjustified remuneration gaps.
Wage increases are also urgently needed in the public sector. Public sector workers have been suffering from wage freezes and cuts in many European countries for a decade now. Public sector workers should also benefit from economic growth.
Collective bargaining at sector level expresses the highest degree of solidarity among workers, it is a barrier against downward competition on wages and precarious working condition; it is the main instrument to achieve fair and sustainable wage growth in which productivity gains and workers’ skills are reflected in real wage growth; it is a level playing field to defend workers against in-work poverty. ‘Fair and sustainable wages’ mean also that inside the same corporation, the gap between managers’ highest pay and employees’ average wage has to be cut.
For that to happen, trade unions should enjoy rights and protections, including the right to join a trade union, the right to strike and to undertake other forms of industrial action, in order to achieve a fair distributional effect and close all discriminatory gaps.
In order to reach such objectives, the CBWCC will:
- Call for an EU wide recognition of the right to collective bargaining, including the right to meet with the workforce and recruit members;
- Support actions in support of cross border bargaining for union recognition;
- Support the implementation of the European Alliance for Upward Wage Convergence;
- Continue providing inputs to the ETUC for the Pay Rise campaign with the aim of achieving a general wage rise in Europe while pursuing a closer upward convergence of workers’ income levels throughout Europe;
- Continue coordinating and mainstreaming trade unions’ demands on upward convergence of wages and working conditions through the European semester cycles. To do so, the CBWCC members, together with TUSLOs, will draft contributions to be included in the yearly ETUC report on trade union inputs for Country Reports. Such contributions will also feed into the annual ETUC report on collective bargaining and wages; Hold an internal exploratory discussion on the right to undertake Europe-wide industrial actions to support negotiations and respect for agreed rules;
- Advocate to improve public procurement tendering criteria to secure respect for collective bargaining and collective agreements.
PRIORITY 3: Combating in-work poverty through a quicker improvement of lower wages and of low-income households depending on wage earners.
A quick increase in lower wages is needed to ensure a decent life for all wage earners and their families, with the aim of ending in-work poverty and of supporting upward wage convergence in Europe. The ETUC benchmark – which sets the lowest minimum wage level at 60% of the national average/median wage, to be measured in a situation of simultaneously increasing median and average wages – guides trade union demands in countries with statutory minimum wages.
The fight against in-work poverty needs specific measures to combat undeclared work, with the main responsibility falling on public and judicial authorities’ inspectorates. Social partners should offer support to workers to obtain lawful pay and recover outstanding payments.
In line with SDGs 8 and 10, trade unions will support actions aimed at improving the income of people in the bottom 40% of the population, pursuing a general demand for fairer wages and to introduce more progressive taxation in order to enhance wealth redistribution policies or shifting tax from labour to other tax sources, while ensuring the capacity of public authorities to provide high quality and universally accessible public services – including quality education for all – and social protection schemes. Statutory minimum wages, where they do exist, should be high enough to prevent in-work poverty and ensure upward convergence of working and living conditions in Europe.
In order to reach such objectives, the ETUC and CBWCC will:
- Support – in countries where trade unions wish so – the ETUC member organisations in their claim for introducing transparent mechanisms of minimum wage setting, with the full involvement of social partners;
- Support the purchasing power of workers by ensuring wage increases at least in line with the golden wage rule (inflation + productivity);
- Support minimum wage policies in line with the ETUC benchmark (ETUC resolution);
- Monitor the development of wages and minimum wages at national level;
- Develop clauses for collective agreements to combat precariousness and create more security of income.
PRIORITY 4: increase solidarity, reduce inequalities and remove gaps (with more collective bargaining)
While the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) sets out to have an immediate impact on three areas of discrimination (gender, age and educational attainment), inequalities and discrimination based on employment status should be tackled and defeated as well. This requires a quick implementation of the priorities set in the Social Pillar and implementation of the social scoreboard to cover remuneration of precarious workers and certain categories of self-employed.
Many EU Member States are experiencing emigration flows mainly due to low wage levels and leading to an impoverishment of the labour market. Investing in people means ensuring better remuneration and progressive remuneration throughout the professional career path. Relaunching social mobility is the way to build confidence in the future. The alternative creates the risk of a winner-takes-all situation, where super-skilled people benefit and the others are stuck at the lower level of wage distribution. Indicators of income inequality (such as the 80/20 indicator) demonstrate this situation. Everybody should enjoy a fair share of the wealth and prosperity available in our economies and societies. All workers despite their level of skills, contribute with their work to the success of our economy and our society should receive their share of the wealth, including through access to and provision of quality public services, including education and training, which are among the main levers for social mobility and fairness in society. Collective bargaining should be able to reward skills but also to better remunerate all jobs.
In order to reach such objectives, the ETUC and CBWCC will:
- Exchange on and spread best practices of collective bargaining on how to fight discriminations as well as use of precarious employment contracts;
- Help identify collective bargaining agreements promoting work-life balance by contributing to the ETUC project “Rebalance” – led by the ETUC Women’s Committee;
- Develop strategies, where appropriate, for extending collective agreements to cover self-employed workers;
- Support the implementation of the EPSR policies aiming at reducing inequalities and discriminations through enhanced collective bargaining.
 See the ETUC Resolution “For a common strategy on low and minimum wages”, adopted by the Executive Committee in Malta on 15 -16 March 2017: https://www.etuc.org/documents/etuc-resolution-common-strategy-low-and-minimum-wages#.WvBFaogiOUk.