Far or near to common labour standards in Europe?

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Far or near to common labour standards in Europe?

The European single market is not only the free movement of capital and employees, but also a challenge in how to ensure fair competition as part of the market game and guarantee fair labour standards in EU Member States.

The fact that this is an important issue is clearly demonstrated by, among others, a high-profile dispute over the principles of remuneration for drivers serving the European transport market. Therefore, if we need common labour standards in Europe, the question arises to what extent trade unions in Europe are able to speak with one voice, in particular given the difference in the advancement of industrial relations between old and new EU countries.

We sought the answer to this question at a meeting of researchers from our region, which was also attended by experts from France, Italy and European structures. We discussed trade union approach in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to key issues in European social dialogue, such as: European minimum wage, European works councils, posting of employees, foreign direct investment.

The results of the ARTUS project research, as presented at the meeting, show that in CEE countries trade union perspectives, despite their many similarities, are varied. Alexandra Johari from the Romanian Institute of Public Policy and Maria Prohaska from the Central European Institute of Labour Studies in Sofia indicated that trade union organizations in their countries perceive the introduction of common standards (e.g. European minimum wage) as an opportunity to compensate for their own weak position and to more effectively secure workers' rights on national level. Similarly, in Lithuania, which has the lowest union density in the entire European Union, as Inga Blażiene from the Lithuanian Center for Social Research pointed out. In all the three countries, the unions very much appreciate advisory support from their Western colleagues, and at the same time the activity of these organizations at European level is quite limited due to the scarcity of resources and the language barrier. Trade unions in Poland and Slovakia support European social dialogue, but at the same time point to the limitations associated with the implementation of common standards in their countries. This applies, for example, to transnational collective agreements, as discussed by Maria Sedlakova from the Center for Economic Development in Bratislava and Barbara Surdykowska, an expert at the Institute of Public Affairs and NSZZ Solidarność. Slovenia stands out against the background of the discussed group, where labour standards are relatively high (e.g. in the area of collective agreements), so the pursuit of common European solutions raises the fear of downward convergence, as discussed by Branko Bembić from the University of Ljubljana. This brings the Slovenian union's point of view closer to the perspective of Western countries, where industrial relations are more advanced.

The participants agreed that, apart from the barriers weakening the activity of trade unions from Central and Eastern Europe on the European forum, the divisions in the articulation of trade union interests do not necessarily occur on the East-West axis, but are visible between sectors or types of organizations. According to Jan Drahokoupil of the European Trade Union Confederation, the main dividing line is defined by the expected role of European instruments – whether they are to protect national standards or are intended to increase them. In his opinion, common standards will not improve the situation in countries where strong actors are lacking. However, the lack of appropriate transnational instruments regulating industrial relations weakens the position of those working in international corporations, as observed by Sławomir Adamczyk of NSZZ Solidarność.  Salvo Leonardi from the Italian Di Vittorio Foundation emphasized that the mobilization of the workforce adequate to the progressing globalization of capital is necessary. Transnational cooperation, as noted by Christophe Teissier from Astrees, France, is not something natural, given the borders and cultural differences dividing our countries –  it should develop in the process of mutual learning, which is a necessary way to develop common solutions.

The meeting took place on February 13-14, 2020 in Bucharest and was organized as part of the ARTUS-CEE project. Members of the Polish delegation were: Sławomir Adamczyk, Jan Czarzasty, Małgorzata Koziarek, Dominik Owczarek, Barbara Surdykowska and Rafał Załęski.

National reports with the results of the research in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will be published soon and supplemented by an expert commentary  from Denmark, France, Ireland and Italy.

The project is co-financed by the European Commission, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

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