Monday, February 17, 2014


The seminar participants visited the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia in the city of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.

The core bussiness of trade unions is to protect workers on their workplace : about regular and irregular working hours, appropriate wages, holidays, health and safety conditions and a lot more. The best instrument to achieve decent labour conditions is the “collective labour agreement” (CLA). The CLA is a legal binding contract negotiated between one or more trade unions and the company where the workers have their job and who are represented by their unions. There are also CLA's on branche level that cover all the workers in the same branche, like for example in the textile industry or in the wood and construction sector. In this way solidarity between workers in the same company is extended to the workers in the same branche. There are also CLA's on national level, which means it applies to all workers in one country.

Executive Secretary Bjorn van Heusden listens to an intervention of Minka Residbegovic from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The CLA was the central theme of the seminar organized by WOW in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from 12 – 14 February, with the support of  the Serbian trade union BOFOS, EZA and the European Commission. The question is why in some European countries most CLA's are on company level and in other countries the CLA 's on branche level prevail. In many countries in Central and Eastern Europe the branche-level CLA does not exist. Are laws and regulations preventing branch level CLA's to be established as legal binding contracts or are there other reasons?

During the seminar it became clear that there are few branch-level CLA's in most Central and Eastern European countries because the employers are not organized. Without a representation of the employers in their own sector it is impossible to come to a branch-level CLA. In many countries it is even difficult to realise a company-level CLA. That is also the reason why the Social Dialogue in most countries does not work well. Without proper instruments to convert agreements into practical policies on the different levels, the Social Dialogue remains a theoretical exercise.

From left to right: President Mara Erdelj of BOFOS in Serbia, Vice-President Vladislav Jevtovic of BOFOS and Stanica Sarcanski of BOFOS. 

On the other hand, countries like Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Malta have a well developed Social Dialogue because they have the instruments to implement the Social Dialogue on practical level, that is to say on company, sector or national level. Both employers organizations and trade unions have a positive attitude towards the Social Dialogue and the CLA's. For example CLA's on branche level guarantee that competition on wage level is excluded. Employers have to compete on other levels like for example productivity and new investments.

From left to right: Adalbert Ewen, president of the German trade union CGM, Jesper Wengel, director of KRIFA and KRIFA President Soren Fibiger Olesen.

During the seminar the participants were confronted with quite the opposite in some countries. For example in Serbia the employees of the French Credit Agricole Bank are forced to sign a letter in which they declare not to become a member of a trade union. The management does not even take the trouble to answer letters of protest and declines any request from BOFOSS, the Serbian Trade Union for the banking sector, to have a meeting. It is obvious that Credit Agricole does not want to come to a company-level CLA. No dialogue with the workers through a trade union. This is the more remarkable because in France, where the head office of Crédit Agricole is established, the Social Dialogue and the CLA are very normal.

Mikus Bozo (on the right) and Miroslav Cukovic of the Oil Industries Trade Union SING in Croatia.

It is obvious that in such circumstances the creation of a CLA on branch level is also impossible unless the government starts to put pressure on the management of the bank. Until now the Serbian Government has not taken any initiative into that direction. It seems that the Serbian Government wants a free market with minimal state intervention, what we call these days a neo-liberal state.

The seminar made clear that regarding the Social Dialogue there is a gap between the West European countries and the countries of Central and East Europe. Thanks to a well developed Social Dialogue in West European countries, trade unions have the possibility to cooperate with employers in looking for solutions which benefit both the employees and the employers. Bargaining between trade unions and employers on company and branch level are no longer small scale 'class struggles' . This does not mean that there are no clashes between the two social partners from time to time. But both sides understand that a compromise has to be found.

Panel Discussion. From left to right: professor Darko Marinkovic of the Megatrend University of Applied Sciences in Serbia, Gejtu Vella, Director of the People at Work Consultancy in Malta, Ike Wiersinga of the CNV Services Union in the Netherlands and WOW Executive secretary Bjorn van Heusden.

Ike Wiersinga from the Dutch CNV trade union for the services sector told enthusiastic about her experiences with a new method of bargaining called 'cocreation'. Cocreation is based on mutual trust between employer and employees, equal relationship, mutual understanding and transparant communications. Cocreation exists of 4 steps:
1. Exploration by a team of cocreators of both sides, an independent chairman or woman and preparation of the themes.
2. The creation of a survey by experts and/or working groups on the labour situation in the company, gathering of knowledge and facts, comparing the situation with other companies, the creation of discussion groups of employees and the establishment of an overall coordination group.
3. Decisionmaking must be build on advices from the theme-groups, one must decide what is shared by both sides and about what differences one must negotiate, one should clearly define interests, one must organize meetings with employees so they can give their opinions, and at the end there should be trade union voting on the final proposals.

4. Afterwards the results are evaluated monthly by employers and trade unions. Trade unions evaluate also if this method leads to more trade union members.

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