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Bringing collective bargaining back

One of the biggest workers' organisations ever formed will be putting the case for collective bargaining to the whole of Europe from today, writes TONY BURKE

THE giant European trade union federation IndustriAll Europe, which covers seven million manufacturing, mining and energy workers, has launched a campaign which aims to demonstrate the positive impact of collective bargaining in delivering a better life for working people.

The campaign is seen as a major step for European trade unions in coordination and co-operating on the issue of collective bargaining.

The campaign will run under the slogan “Together At Work” through to March 2020 and is aimed at all workers with a focus on women, young people and workers in precarious employment.

Amongst the reasons for the campaign is the fact that collective bargaining is under attack by employers and some governments in Europe. IndustriALL Europe says that collective bargaining is a key to higher pay and better working conditions.

IndustriAll Europe’s general secretary Luc Triangle told a media launch on September 26: “Over the past decades, collective bargaining has been eroded throughout Europe. Following the 2008 crisis collective bargaining was attacked by both national governments and European institutions, as a means to lower wages and restore profitability.

“The increase in individual contracts has left many workers unable to stand up for themselves and led to a rise in precarious work and in-work poverty. This has led to a vicious cycle where lower bargaining coverage undermines the power to act collectively and to improve conditions for all workers in society. This also erodes social cohesion and now threatens the future of our social security systems, as workers can no longer afford, and employers no longer have to, contribute sufficiently to ensure adequate protection.

“Our campaign will clearly demonstrate the advantages for workers, employers and society of a model of workplace relations with collective bargaining at its heart. This means strong trade unions and employers willing to sit around the table. Together at Work will show the way forward and identify the measures needed to support collective bargaining.”

Unite is backing the campaign. The fact is that collective bargaining has been under attack by employers and the British government for four decades now. 71 per cent of British workers were covered by collective agreements back in 1979, including national sectoral agreements and company-wide agreements covering pay, working hours, holidays, overtime and shift arrangements, apprentices’ pay and many other issues. 11 per cent of workers were also covered by wages councils which protected some of our lowest paid workers in sectors such as agriculture and box making.

British government statistics today suggest that collective bargaining has been pushed back, with just 26 per cent of workers covered by collective agreements — only 14.7 per cent of workers in the private sector and 58.9 per cent of the public sector.

This has been bad news for workers. There is massive inequity in terms of pay and conditions between the wealthy and ordinary working people, zero-hours contracts have taken hold, low pay is endemic and many people are having to work two or three jobs just to make a living.

However, the Labour Party’s announcement of its plans to roll out sectoral collective bargaining and ban zero-hours contracts when it takes office is good news.

Shadow minister for employment Laura Pidcock MP announced, to both the TUC and Labour Party conferences this month, an ambitious programme of minimum and legally binding pay, terms and conditions for every employer and every worker in a sector.

Each month, IndustriALL Europe will focus on a different set of messages aimed at workers, employers, women, young people and others, telling real stories about working people, their struggles and their jobs and highlighting the concrete benefits that trade unions bring through collective negotiations with employers through a combination of video and printed material for use in the workplace and social media.

Tony Burke is Unite assistant general secretary and vice-president of IndustriALL Europe.

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