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19 November, 2019Textile, clothing, leather and footwear industries employ more than 600,000 people in eight South-East European countries, with the proximity to major European markets providing growth opportunities. But with salaries as low as €200-400 per month in some countries, union leaders are reporting that it is difficult to attract young workers.
Thousands of people had left for Western Europe in search of better lives. Cooperation is key to securing a qualified workforce and living wages in South-East European textile industries.
This was the conclusion when 100 national and local union leaders, employer associations and fashion brands met at a conference organized by IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe on 12-13 November in Sofia.
Employer associations from Albania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia expressed support for increasing wages to secure enough qualified workforce, but said they need help from the brands.
Fashion brands H&M, Inditex, ASOS and Benetton pledged their cooperation for a sustainable transformation. The ACT living wage initiative provides a methodology for purchasing practices that enable the payment of living wages. Respect of freedom of association and industry-level collective agreements are other central elements.
Unions reported progress on rebuilding national level collective bargaining. Just days earlier, a sectoral framework agreement was signed in Bulgaria, providing a set of rights and a minimum salary, seven per cent above the legal minimum wage. Talks on sectoral collective agreements have been launched in Albania and Croatia, in North Macedonia, unions and employers are working to improve the coverage of the existing branch accord.
Key to progress is building trade union power. Unions in the region recruited 6,500 new members in 2018-2019, but there were also job losses due of fluctuations in production.
Despite a hostile environment, affiliates are committed to continue building stronger unions with the help of detailed mappings and strategic organising plans. They will be supported by their European and global organisations and affiliates from Sweden, Spain, Germany, Italy and Belgium.
Representatives of the European Commission and industry associations Cotance and CEC offered their cooperation on developing social dialogue and capacity building.
Luc Triangle, industriAll Europe’s general secretary said:
“Workers leaving South-East Europe, companies lacking work forces, and disadvantaged regions in South-East Europe alarmingly running out of inhabitants will continue if wages, working conditions and living standards are not raised to higher standards. Strong unions and sectoral employers’ associations taking responsibility for their industries by negotiating collective agreements are needed to give the fashion industry and their workers a future in South-East Europe.”
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said:
“What is needed in Southeast Europe is a sustainable economy and we believe textile and garment industries can play a key role for this with living wages and decent working conditions. But, obviously, without mobilization on the ground and capacity building this will not happen. We need to strengthen our structures and develop effective industrial relations in the supply chain. Global framework agreements give us an opportunity to do so. Therefore, we welcome the commitment of global brands at this Conference to work towards improving purchasing practices and supporting collective agreements at industry level.”
All participating unions got a certificate of achievement for their action. The conference was part of an EU-funded project “Strengthening the capacity of trade unions in South-East Europe to improve wages and working conditions in the garment and footwear sectors”, carried out in cooperation between industriAll Europe and IndustriALL Global Union. The project covers Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. In addition, affiliates from Bosnia-Herzegovina were invited to the conference.