LRD Booklets May 2004

Worker Representation in Europe

Introduction

The growing economic ties between the countries of the European Union (EU) bring more and more trade unionists in direct contact with one another, and the enlargement of the EU on 1 May 2004 means that 10 new states are included. It is therefore increasingly important for trade unionists across Europe to make links and to learn from one another.

However, if this is to happen successfully, it is essential that trade unionists have some understanding of the context in which their counterparts elsewhere in Europe are operating. There is certainly much that is common, in particular a wish to defend the interests of trade union members and employees in general. But the trade union structure, the extent of trade union membership, the way that collective bargaining is conducted and the legal framework for representing employees are all different from country to country.

Chapter 1 of this booklet provides a summary of the key features and differences in unionisation, collective bargaining and workplace representation across the EU. This is followed by a chapter on each of the 25 EU states, with information on:

* the trade unions and confederations, including their political links;

* collective bargaining and the extent to which this occurs at national, industry and company level; and

* the general structure of workplace representation, including the powers and rights of employee and trade union representatives.

Each chapter also contains specific information on European Works Councils (EWCs), the bodies that bring company-level employee representatives together from across Europe. It explains how the members of the bodies involved with EWCs - the Special Negotiating Body, which negotiates the make-up and powers of the EWC, and the fallback EWC which is imposed by law if these negotiations fail - are chosen in each country.

Member states are required to incorporate EU directives into their legislation, and the booklet looks at how they have done this in, for example, the case of consultation over large-scale redundancies and business transfers. By March 2005 they will also be required to implement the directive on information and consultation. Where this requires changes to existing laws in member states, this is described.

This booklet draws on many sources, and some of the most important are listed on page 184, together with details of websites containing relevant information. In addition, the Labour Research Department is very grateful to the trade unionists in many countries who have helped by providing information and material.