IndustriALL Europe holds white-collar meeting in Paris

11.03.2013

IndustriAll Europe organized the special working party for the white-collar group on 28 February in Paris, hosted by CFE-CGC. It was attended by unions from Sweden, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Denmark and Norway.

Anne-Catherine Cudennec of CFE-CGC kicked off the meeting by introducing her union, a union that organizes engineers and managers as well as technicians and supervisors in the metalworking industries. In France 20 per cent of metalworkers are women. In the meantime more women and young people are joining the union. And as everywhere, since there are more and more people working in white-collar jobs, more and more people are joining the CGC unions, which organize those who have responsibility for people who work under them.

Bart Samyn, Deputy General Secretary of IndustriAll Europe, explained some of the key issues confronting the European federation as well as some of the focuses of the work program. In June 2014 a collective bargaining conference will be held in Vienna. The theme will be the crisis. The challenges are how to find common positions and common solutions to the crisis. How can we close ranks in Europe? What can we propose? Changes in legislation? How can we recover what we have lost? The crisis has had massive effects on equality for instance. The wage share in GDP has been dropping constantly. Nevertheless there are huge increases in productivity, which prove that the employers’ claims that the wage share is excessive are unfounded.

Stress and burnout must be contemplated in the work program. The opt-out clause, which first was instituted by the UK government, is being used by more and more governments to pressure workers to work longer hours. We are against member states opting out. The notion behind the opt out is autonomy, which is not a clear concept. With autonomy the EU working time directive need not be followed. Managerial staff are not included in the directive. They should be, but the chances for that are slim. IndustriAll Europe on the other hand has a guideline on working time, which stipulates that 38 hours is the most anyone should work. No country has anything near 48 hours a week working time. In addition no one should accumulate more than 100 hours of overtime in a year. But many situations are uncontrollable, not even to mention black overtime. All work must be captured and paid.

In the meantime the negotiations on working time have stopped. And once negotiations stop, it is the Commission who takes over. The European Parliament is expected to make some minor changes, but there are likely to be net losses. The trade union side was reluctant to negotiate because there was never a chance to achieve anything. The ETUC wants to exclude as few people as possible from working time regulations. The employers want no change. The ETUC would like to limit the exclusions to top management. The employers, however, are good at changing people’s titles to make it possible to treat them more flexibly.

The crisis has had a definite and adverse effect on work-life balance. Combining careers and families is still complicated. Pursuing a career after taking time off for childbirth or a family phase is tough, and the higher the career level, the more complicated it is. Fathers need to be mentioned expressly in parental leave arrangements. Employers do not always understand why fathers need to take leave. Demographic change leads to many discussions. Life expectancy is longer and longer, but heavy physical work cannot be done endlessly.

Training and education together with precarious work need to be followed up. The crisis had led to extreme levels of youth unemployment. Young people are leaving, and the loss of skills will soon be another problem. Some people are talking about a lost generation. Young people in traineeships are also often misused. All jobs must be treated as work, and there must be equal treatment. And all jobs must be unionized.

A new development is interim contracts for managerial staff, and for IT engineers in particular. Engineers are recruited for one project. In France 90 per cent of new contracts in the metalworking industries are short-term. Thus precarious jobs are not just a challenge for those with lower skill levels.

In Denmark the government created a program called the Danish Innovation Assistant Programme. It was set up in part to remedy the problem of skilled people leaving because of the crisis. In this program small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) can have public support for hiring a person with higher education. Most people in Denmark work in SME’s, but most people with higher education work in larger enterprises. Thus there is a huge potential in SME’s for people with higher education. Studies show that SME’s with highly educated people perform better and create more jobs. For every person with higher education hired, more jobs are created for other people in companies. Some barriers needed to be overcome. SME’s sometimes have trouble getting financing. Bureaucracy can be a problem – companies have to comply with a lot of rules and do a lot of reporting. They sometimes lack people with vision, and they do not always have the competence to expand. They need a push to create new ambitions and develop new ideas. Therefore SME’s receive a grant for a year to strengthen the hiring of highly educated persons. The innovation assistant must implement a specific task for the company in terms of product development and quality, development of marketing strategies and cultivation of new markets, strategy development, strategic management, employee development, optimizing of production processes, improvement and planning of work and work organization.

The Danish engineers’ union IDA was a driver in this process. IDA showed how the program benefits the employers and society. For example employers get money back in taxes and subsidies. Engineers on the other hand understand why it is interesting to work in an SME, instead of always working in a big company.

From 2001 to 2006, companies that had an innovation assistant increased their employment. The program benefits both blue and white-collar workers. Typically one educated person opens up a job for 4 to 5 other workers.

Since 2006 this has been a part of public policy in Denmark. If the EU Commission were to do something for SME’s, this could be a model to follow. Similarly France has a program for apprenticeships for people with masters degrees.

These ways of promoting and boosting employment for engineers and executives should be explored further.

Finally in connection with EUROCADRES certain changes can be expected this year in that organization with new leadership. In addition EUROCADRES intends to propose setting up social dialogue in research sectors.