Trade union rights

There’s a crisis of legality  engulfing the EU, says Professor Keith Ewing. The Greek industrial relations system is now ‘vulnerable to collapse’, ‘destabilising’ the human right to freedom of association while wages established by collective agreements have been slashed. Unprotected workers being “liberated” to sign away minimum terms and conditions of employment. More

See also:

European Labour Lawyers demand that the right to strike must be guaranteed without neoliberal restrictions More

A report by the ETUI finds that  labour law reforms implemented under cover of the economic and financial crisis are having a ‘major negative impact’ on workers’ rights and fundamental social rights. Download the report

Anti-union discrimination widespread in Europe, says the ITUC

The year in Europe was dominated by the reverberations of the continuing economic crisis, which hit hardest in Greece. Labour laws have been amended in several European countries, often as integral parts of austerity measures pushed through to bring down budget deficits. This has eroded trade union rights across the region, and at the same time social dialogue was often perfunctory or strained. Anti-union discrimination was again widespread in 2011, even in some countries with long traditions of industrial relations, but particularly in Georgia, where neo-liberal economic reforms have set back the rights of employees and trade unions; in Turkey, where union activities are heavily restricted; and in Belarus, where Lukashenko’s regime continues harassing and intimidating independent trade unions.

Within the European Union (EU), Greece has been at the centre of the eurozone debt crisis. In a bid to reduce its debt, and with membership of the eurozone precluding any opportunity to devalue its currency, the Greek government – pushed by the memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (the ‘troika’) – has instead had to pursue an ‘internal devaluation’, i.e., reducing wages and living standards sharply.

This situation has had consequences in terms of trade union rights in relation to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Changes were introduced to the rules on collective bargaining in the autumn with the new system prioritising enterprise level bargaining and not just sectoral or occupational agreements. It has also allowed associations of persons to enter into bargaining agreements, a measure targeted at smaller enterprises. Union bodies have seen some of these moves as destabilising the industrial relations framework and weakening the role of trade unions.

Although at their most stark in Greece, these issues have also been faced by trade unions in Portugal, which also required a bailout and where the government is effectively pursuing an internal devaluation. Hungary and Romania are other EU member countries which in the face of the financial crisis have implemented far reaching changes to their respective labour laws that particularly undermine national and sectoral level collective bargaining systems, to the detriment of working people and trade unions. EU and national court decisions related to minimum-wage bargaining procedures in Ireland or demands on Portuguese collective bargaining arrangements (even if the product of joint trade union/employer decisions) have been enacted in the similar spirit of erosion of established social dialogue institutions instead of using them to resolve the problems….

Dismissals for trade union membership and activism have been reported in many central and eastern European countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Poland and Serbia. Western Europe is not immune either, with dismissals reported in Belgium. A lack of confidence in the legal mechanisms to protect union rights is unsurprisingly apparent in Belarus, Kosovo and the Russian Federation. In Albania and Moldova weak enforcement by the labour inspectorate is also at issue.

These remain challenging times for the labour movement in Europe, with austere economic policies threatening to undermine the role and relationships of trade unions.

The rising wave of policies against working people in Europe

Grigor Gradev, PERC Executive Secretary

The pressures on labour relation systems continue to lead to a dramatic loss of trade union and worker rights. The main trends identified in 2010 have systematically intensified and set new ’records’ in 2011.

The situation for workers has only been aggravated by the nature and targets of the so-called rescue programmes imposed and implemented by the “Troika” – EU, ECB, and IMF in a number of EU member states. In 2011 we also witnessed the readiness of governments in other countries to be guided by the same approaches to address the challenges of the crisis.

The drive towards unilateral policy-making and drastic measures has a profound impact and long-term consequences for national and European systems of social dialogue along three main lines:

The attempts to bypass social partners and established mechanisms of dialogue have led to the outright rejection of joint positions, proposals or normative drafts prepared by trade unions and employers.

Governments increasingly proceed on that basis to try to discredit the rationale and undermine the architecture of collective and individual labour relations which underscore social peace, opening instead the gates of social and political unrest.

Second, the unilateral policy approach was extended to the international level. Opinions or advice provided by specialised bodies such as the ILO expressing concern over violations of fundamental labour standard related to reforms undertaken, have been ignored in a number of cases.

And third, the rising number of instances where previously traditionally negotiated solutions and regimes of operation are increasingly replaced by normative prescriptions and rigid legal frames to consolidate the results of the unilateral policies. The EU economic governance policies and particularly the latest “fiscal pact” provide particular momentum along these lines even for countries not severely hit by the crisis. Obviously, eventual corrections of extreme solutions imposed in this way will necessitate major political mobilisation and actions.

As expected, the policies and actions outlined above have changed the practice of social dialogue at different levels across the region, in a range of cases leading to a fundamental restructuring, and in extreme cases to a complete destruction of dialogue. The ensuing erosion of the legitimacy of the political systems and the political elites has been best demonstrated by the mobilisation of youth movements, demanding more direct democracy, growing in parallel to the mounting trade union protest actions. The EU controversial policies to the challenges of the crisis as well as the actions discrediting the European Social Model have depressed the trust of its citizens to the lowest level on record and turned it to convenient argument for regimes pursuing specific types of “democracy” and actions.

More from the ITUC Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights 2012 

And on western Europe Belgium : France : Germany : Greece : Italy : Portugal : Spain : Sweden : Switzerland : UK


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Twitter Updates

  • EU adopts 'two-pack' legislation consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_dat… Why this is not good revolting-europe.com/2013/03/29/aga… 1 day ago
  • 929,903 reasons to oppose health privatisation | Revolting Europe wp.me/p1bMfw-1LG 1 day ago
  • Why tinkering with taxes won't solve Italy's jobs crisis | Luciano Gallino | Revolting #Europe wp.me/p1bMfw-1Lz 3 days ago
  • #Italy: the jobs of the future | Luciano Gallino | Revolting #Europe wp.me/p1bMfw-1Lz 3 days ago
  • A Week in Revolting #Europe wp.me/p1bMfw-16u #politics #austerity #banks #spain #portugal #italy #france #EUrozone #germany #greece 4 days ago
  • No Mr Letta, you can't have it both ways: #Growth, #austerity to coexist in policies, #Italy Premier says - ANSA ansa.it/web/notizie/ru… 5 days ago
  • #Italy Industrial output down 4.2% in first quarter fo 2013. ANSA.it ansa.it/web/notizie/ru… #austerityfail 5 days ago
  • Teachers' union calls #strike over increase in hours & mass lay-offs amid govt threats ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_artic… via @ekathimerini #greece 5 days ago
  • Italian Tax Revenues Affected By Economic Recession tax-news.com/news/Italian_T… #austerityfail 5 days ago
  • New data from #Italy show the class nature of inflation & need for middle/low income earners to get a decent pay… wp.me/p1bMfw-1Lv 5 days ago
Follow @tomgilltweets

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Key facts and figures on wages across the EU

Wealth Inequality in Europe

Get the key facts and figures


A different take on European issues

Italy’s Healthcare Crisis

Health services are ‘close to collapse’ in Rome, Turin and Naples after years of cuts and privatisation.


99% of the 167 000 Madrilenos who signed a petition rejected the sell off local water company

Filthy Rich

France's Bernard Arnault of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) empire is worth $41 billion. Check out Europe's rich list


Private banks receive half-trillion-euro gift from ECB


Arménio Carlos of CGTP led a general strike in Portugal on March 22


Workers are on a go-slow over privatisation

Massive Spanish protest

Half a million take to the streets over labour market deregulation


Hundreds of workers occupied the factory of ArcelorMittal in Florange in the north of France

International Workers Day 2012

International Workers Day 2012


Anti-social Europe in numbers

RSS Watching Corporate Europe

  • The right to say no: EU–Canada trade agreement threatens fracking bans
  • OLAF's leaked Dalligate report underlines need to end tobacco lobbyist's role as EU ethics adviser
  • Deutsche Bank, the blindfolded regulator, and the 26 billion euro vanishing trick

RSS Hate Crimes in Europe

  • Roma representatives from 5 countries work to promote Roma rights
  • Photograph of Afghan teen victim of race attack published (Greece)

RSS Fight discrimination in Europe – Amnesty Int’l

  • Listen to Roma Rights
  • The Czech government is backtracking from its commitment to inclusive education

RSS Discrimination: legal news

  • Romania - Amendments to the Anti-discrimination Law adopted as emergency ordinance without observing public consultations procedures (PDF 59 kB)
  • Romania - Proposed amendments to the Anti-discrimination Law are presented by the NCCD for public consultations (PDF 58 kB)
  • Romania - Romanian Parliament adopts bill amending the Anti-discrimination Law (PDF 58 kB)


in Italy the home is a very dangerous place to be


Workers down tools over PM Monti's attack on labour rights


Concentration camps and a massive migrant marine cemetery





Read the statement by Lafontaine and Melenchon

PM Rajoy One Year On

Spaniards are not impressed








The Dossier