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Improved cooperation means better conditions for 600,000 workers

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4 October, 2018Meeting in Istanbul on 28 September, GFA partners Inditex, H&M and ASOS pledged to continue with IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe on building collective bargaining and better conditions for over 600,000 garment and footwear workers in South-East Europe.

A year ago the European Commission decided to support a 2-year industriAll Europe project in 2018-19 under the title “Strengthening the capacity of trade unions in South-East Europe to improve wages and working conditions in the garment and footwear sectors”. The project targets six countries in the region: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.

A mapping carried out as the first phase of the project earlier this year revealed that there are more than 600,000 garment and footwear workers in South-East Europe. Their unionisation levels are as low as 3-4%, there are few collective agreements, and workers’ salaries in some countries are around 200 euros per month, or only half of those for garment workers in China.

industriAll Europe and IndustriALL Global Union agreed to work closely together to address the problems and focus on achieving four important results in the years to come:

Growth of union membership through strategic organizing, training and capacity-building
Increase collective agreements (CBAs) at company level
Rebuild industry-level collective bargaining
Develop paths towards living wages through brand cooperation, minimum wage increases and CBAs

Interaction with the key garment and footwear brands sourcing from South-East Europe is important for facilitating progress on the central goals of the project. Therefore, IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe met on 28 September in Istanbul with three leading brands that have signed global framework agreements (GFA) with IndustriALL Global Union, namely Inditex, H&M and ASOS.

The three brands confirmed their support for freedom of association and collective bargaining in South-East Europe, seeing it as part of their strategic cooperation with the global and European unions. Western European trade unions have committed to helping on contacts with other leading brands in Italy, Germany and other countries.

“We are looking for win-win solutions for the workers with good conditions, companies with sustainable business, and governments in the form of economic growth and more equal societies. South-East European countries need to create domestic demand through the payment of living wages”, said Luc Triangle, general secretary of industriAll Europe.

“We see this project and cooperation with the key brands as part of our global broader strategy to profoundly change the garment and footwear industry and make it sustainable worldwide. Global framework agreements and the ACT living wage initiative are essential tools in this process”, said Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union.

IndustriALL Global Union has signed GFAs with six garment and footwear brands, Inditex, H&M, ASOS, Tchibo, Esprit and Mizuno, covering millions of workers throughout the supply chains.  ACT is an expanding, ground-breaking agreement to achieve living wages for workers through industry-wide collective bargaining linked to the brands’ purchasing practices and freedom of association.

The project will now continue with six national seminars, with focus on capacity building, putting together action plans in each country, and interaction with other stakeholders such as employer associations and governments.