Европейские заводские советы: платформа межнациональной коммуникации для работников и менеджмента многонациональных компаний
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European Works Councils: A transnational communication ground for workers and management in multinational companies
In September 1994, after harsh confrontation among the social partners and a legislative process taking over fifteen years, the European Directive on the establishment of European Works Councils in multinational companies in the European Union was finally adopted1.
Ever since the start of his term of office, Jacques Delors, European Commission President from 1985 to 1995, had pushed for a new social dimension in the building of Europe, believing that Europe could not limit itself to the mere creation of a large unified market but that, on the contrary, there was an unbreakable bond between the economic and social aspects. The entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in November 1993 led to the achievement of the plan, begun in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, for a large European market within which — by unifying the economic and social rules — there would be free movement and mobility of citizens, goods, and enterprises, assigning the European-scale social partners (employer and worker union organizations) a fundamental place and role. The Commission was assigned the task of aiding this process, supporting social dialogue among European-, national-, and enterprise-scale employer and worker union organizations, with the aim of overcoming all obstacles hindering economic and social cohesion and the creation of the internal market.
The situation, however, remained extremely unbalanced to the detriment of the workers and the benefit of the enterprises, which could take advantage of the freedom to relocate and reorganize their production and service units in any of the Member States of the Union, thus increasing their competitiveness on internal and global markets.
In the spring of 1993 the so-called «Hoover affair» came to the fore: the American multinational corporation announced its intention to close its production plant in France and transfer its business to Scotland in order to take advantage of the better tax and contract benefits offered there. The announcement, made by newspapers, aroused the rage of workers and trade unions, because the company’s decision had not been communicated beforehand
1 DG Employment, Social Affairs & amp- Inclusion, European Works Council. URL:
ec. europa. eu/sotial/main. jsp? catM=707&-langM=en&-intPageM=211#Implementation (accessed December 2012).
and no exchange of information between the French and Scottish workers had been possible. The Hoover affair revealed the weakness of the plan for a single market of enterprises, which lacked a balance of guarantees and rights for the advance information and consultation of the workers concerned and an effective instrument for transnational connection and mutually supportive exchange among the workers involved on both sides. In this framework, and in response to the outcry over the incident of the American multinational corporation, the European Commission took up the project once again and issued, between 1994 and 2002, a series of directives aiming to give workers basic rights concerning information, consultation, and participation in their companies.
Information and consultation of employees in multinational companies.
The first, and perhaps most important, of these directives was issued in September 1994 (Directive 94/45/EC)2, and established the European Works Councils (EWCs).
These are worker representation bodies in undertakings or groups of undertakings with more than one thousand workers within the boundaries of the European Union and at least one hundred and fifty workers in two Member States. The workers' representatives, appointed by the trade union organizations or elected directly by the workers3, sit on the EWCs and are entitled to meet at least once a year and to be informed and consulted in advance by central management on the company’s situation and developments, as well as in regard to any significant decision that may entail consequences for the workforce of the multinational group in at least two countries.
In 2009, with Directive 2009/38/EC4, the directive of 1994 was reworked and strengthened in its definitions, for example those of information and consultation, and in the rights of the EWC, in particular with regard to the role of the trade unions, communication with the workers of the individual production sites, training of members, and expert assistance.
Workers' information and consultation rights are essential elements not only of the national systems of industrial relations, but of the European social model itself. It is useful, however, to clarify exactly what the European directive means by «information» and
2 Council Directive 94/45/EC on the establishment of a European Works Council or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings for the purposes of informing and consulting employees, 1994.
3 Depending on the national legislations or procedures regarding worker representation in enterprises.
4 Directive 2009/38/EC on the establishment of a European Works Council or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings for the purposes of informing and consulting employees, 2009.
«consultation» and, moreover, how the exercise of these rights can be applied.
Directive 2009/38/EC provides the following definitions in its Article 2:
f) & quot-information"- means transmission of data by the employer to the employees' representatives in order to enable them to acquaint themselves with the subject matter and to examine it- information shall be given at such time, in such fashion and with such content as are appropriate to enable employees' representatives to undertake an in-depth assessment of the possible impact and, where appropriate, prepare for consultations with the competent organ of the Community-scale undertaking or Community-scale group of undertakings-
g) & quot-consultation"- means the establishment of dialogue and exchange of views between employees' representatives and central management or any more appropriate level of management, at such time, in such fashion and with such content as enables employees' representatives to express an opinion on the basis of the information provided about the proposed measures to which the consultation is related, without prejudice to the responsibilities of the management, and within a reasonable time, which may be taken into account within the Community-scale undertaking or Community-scale group of undertakings5-
For over a decade, the EWCs have represented a model of social dialogue and helped establish procedures essential for good business governance in Europe. Global competition, the worsening of the economic situation, and the industrial crisis have brought a spike in the restructuring processes of enterprises. The information and consultation procedures implemented through the EWCs have facilitated, in many situations, a socially responsible and, insofar as is possible, shared management of the most difficult employment situations, also through collective bargaining- it has thus been possible to introduce flexibility into the production activities or services and ward off any possible conflicts.
Over 1,200 EWCs representing around 18 million workers are established and functioning today6. Considering that there are, on average, 20 members in each EWC, at the present time over 24,000 worker representatives from all the EU Member States — but in many cases also from EU candidate and non-EU countries — are involved in transnational procedures and meetings.
5 Directive 2009/38/EC on the establishment of a European Works Council or a procedure in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings for the purposes of informing and consulting employees, 2009. Article 2, subsection 1.
6 The Database of European Works Council Agreements. URL: www. ewcdb. eu/ (accessed December 2012).
The EWCs: a transnational communication ground. The parties involved
For the participants, and not just for them, EWCs represent an extraordinary experience and a communication ground that is unique and one of its kind in importance.
The quality of the communication is fundamental for the good functioning of the EWCs, and this concerns management (central and local), the EWC members, the trade union, and all the workers of the multinational group. It is a matter of whether to share or conceal information, include or discriminate, have dialogue or conflict, overcome or build prejudices, etc.
Among the parties involved in the functioning of an EWC, relations and communications are variously interwoven and strongly influenced by objective and subjective factors.
The communication quality of management
The management of the multinational group plays an important role in the success and effectiveness of an EWC. But what is the culture of human and trade union relations of the multinational? This culture may either facilitate or hinder — with paternalistic or authoritarian policies — the dialogue with the workers' representatives in the management of the company. The managers' reward and career policies, transparency and command hierarchy in decision-making processes, and other factors are of great importance in the quality of the communication. Company management cannot know everything, and often the workers know things that management should know but does not. Worker representation bodies such as the EWCs can collect and compile worker information, evaluations, and expectations, which are often inaccessible to management and whose study would, in any case, entail major economic expense for the company. Consider, for example, the topics of job evaluation and work-related risks, technological and organizational innovation processes, training needs, etc.
Company decisions improve if they must be communicated and justified to a well-informed and equipped worker representation body. Normally decision-making in an industrial democracy takes time, but the results are better. Management, which must inform and consult with worker representatives, is forced to consider and evaluate all the alternatives beforehand, so as to be able to meet any demands and objections raised. This will help avoid a higher risk of error, foster consent, prevent conflict, and give greater guarantees as to the results. If a company can demonstrate that it is going through a serious crisis and that it is willing to manage fair and equitable sacrifices together with the workers, it will be able to count on the sense of responsibility and support of the workers' representatives in exchange for greater control over the additional measures agreed upon (increase of productivity, redundancy management, work
hour reduction, etc.). In today’s enterprises a decentralization of responsibilities (post-Fordism) is called for- in order to have responsibility, self-motivation, and self-control on the job, there must be a spirit of identification with the organization, which cannot be imposed, but only negotiated and practised through communication quality and consensus.
The intercultural difficulties of workers' representatives in the EWC
There are a number of culture and language barriers among EWC members. In fact, very few worker representatives have foreign language skills and international experience- to these difficulties — which, in practice, can be overcome with interpreters, translators, and language courses — must be added the stereotypes and prejudices connected with nonverbal communication. A sense of punctuality and adherence to schedules, clarity of expression, posture during meetings, listening attitude, body language, etc. all contribute strongly to creating a climate of either respect or distrust in communication and the receptiveness to information and the viewpoints of others. These aspects must not be underestimated and normally form one of the first topics covered in the training of new EWC members. Cultural barriers also depend on the different reasons and interests each individual has in his or her presence on a EWC. Worker representatives from the country or business centre of the parent company of a multinational group tend to feel «a little more equal than others» and stronger because of their closeness to management headquarters (also because the main working language is often their own). Representatives coming from recently acquired or geographically peripheral business centres tend to marginalize themselves or adopt conflictual attitudes. If these and other communication problems are to be solved, training strategies, fostered by the company culture, and a diligent commitment of expert facilitators are necessary.
The diversity of the national industrial relations models and practices
Social Europe is characterized by a number of common achievements, but it is still based on specific social traditions and, with regard to industrial relations, different national models (e.g. single trade union or union pluralism, ideological and/or confessional union or vocational union, union-based or universal representation in workplaces, levels of collective bargaining and instruments for participation in enterprises, etc.). The scant, or total lack of, knowledge of others' models may generate misunderstanding among EWC members. Council members must learn to be mutually trustful, but for this to be true, they must know how to listen and communicate. Often their attitude toward the different representation and industrial relations models in Europe is similar to that of football fans, each convinced that his championship is the best and most competitive. But the reason for this attitude is that they are only familiar with their own! Communicating, in this case, means explaining to one’s EWC
colleagues, simply and clearly, contract structures or conflict management procedures which are often very complex. Once again, the training of the members and the role of the expert are of fundamental importance. Once everything is in full swing and the phase of getting to know each other is over, the communication will concern the exchange of information on specific topics: the management of a restructuring process, experimentation of a new work organization, launching of environmental protection and sustainable development policies in accordance with shared codes of conduct, etc. Once again, communication quality is crucial- it must serve to compare experiences and decode lingos — «unionese» — which are often impossible to translate or which may have potentially misleading meanings.
Communication times and means
Communication among the members of an EWC must serve to identify the priorities to be submitted to management, exchange information and share viewpoints, define an opinion and common strategy for influencing management’s decision-making processes, and alert each other in case of need. To accomplish these goals it is necessary to build, as has been mentioned, a high level of mutual trust among the EWC members and to have prompt, continuous, autonomous (from management), and reliable communication tools. The quality of the work of an EWC is not judged solely on the basis of the number and results of the yearly meetings, but also, and perhaps above all, on the quality and intensity of the exchanges that take place among the members from one meeting to the next- these exchanges are aided by tools that the European directive indicates only generically, but which the agreements establishing the EWC may also specify in regulations of their own. Many EWCs have and use traditional communication tools (phone, fax), others have dedicated websites, Intranet sites, or network using Facebook or Twitter, and still others use newsletters or videoconferencing.
These tools, often not commonly used by all, are fundamental, and their cost is shouldered totally by the management of the multinational group.
E-communication is the new work frontier of EWC members, and it is interesting how experiences are happening and being spread. Through these tools it is possible to share information and documents, but also to verify the level of agreement on specific topics, increasing the democracy and improving the internal functioning of the EWC.
Communication management represents still an interesting challenge for the EWCs members, both from the side of employees and employers. The importance of a proper channel of exchange between members is necessary in order to completely fulfil the rights provided by the European Directives Directive 94/45/EC and Directive 2009/38/EC. The
challenges represented by the national industrial relations and the intercultural differences among countries can be addressed through the involvement of EWCs members in specific training courses aiming at reducing the misunderstanding given by lack of linguistic competences and different attitudes towards industrial relations. The role of specific experts involved in the correct implementation of these training courses is crucial. Furthermore, it is important to underline that the tools aimed at simplifying the exchange of communication (e.g. IT solutions, websites, social networks, etc.) are regulated and described in the definition of each EWC agreement.
Interaction between the management and the employees can be guaranteed by the EWCs members, thanks to their role in collecting the workers' requests, problems and expectations. In particular, the exchange of points of views and information between EWCs members and the management can prevent conflicts and provide useful experiences. Therefore, from the employers side, the rights of information and consultation should be enhanced thought a better communication, in order to share, at such time, in such fashion and with such content, appropriate data to enable employees' representatives to undertake an indepth assessment of the situation and provide their opinion, as required by the EU Directives.
Another interesting tool of communication is represented by the dissemination of specific databases collecting the current EWCs agreements and providing a detailed analysis on the subjects and their legislative references. Thanks to this kind of tools, the knowledge of EWCs agreements can be enhanced and the awareness among the issue can be developed also to those undertakings who do not have already established a workers' representation body.
Proper communication becomes therefore strategically important in order not only to address different cultural models of industrial relations and overcome the misunderstandings between EWCs members, but also in order to provide a realistic exchange of information and communication between different levels.
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Websites and Newsletters:
9. Comitati Aziendali Europei — European Works Council. URL: www. cae-ewc. eu (accessed December 2012).
10. DG Employment, Social Affairs & amp- Inclusion, European Works Council. URL: ec. europa. eu/social/main. jsp? catId=707&-langId=en&-intPageId=211#Implementation (accessed December 2012).
11. European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). URL: www. etuc. org (accessed December 2012).
12. Newsletter for European works councils and related subjects. URL: www. ewc-news. com/ (accessed December 2012).
13. PaRL — Participation and rights letter. URL: www. cae-ewc. eu/Parl. asp (accessed December 2012).
14. The Database of European Works Council Agreements. URL: www. ewcdb. eu/ (accessed December 2012).