The unions are determined to prevent downward pressure on pay and jobs when most of the European Union countries adopt a single currency, the Euro. Meeting on 4-5 September, union bargaining policy officers from the four countries said they hoped that unions in other European Union states would join their initiative - particularly in the countries that will be using the Euro.
Wage demands in the four countries will be based on the sum total of cost-of-living changes and labour productivity increases, the unions agreed. They emphasised that European workers have not had their fair share of recent growth.
"The economic growth of recent years has produced too few results for workers in terms of more jobs, the reduction of unemployment and the improvement of purchasing power. In the participating countries - and in Europe as a whole - the rise in labour productivity has been to the unilateral benefit of capital. Employees' share of the national income (the wage quota) has gone down. A continuation of this trend in the macroeconomic distribution of income is unjustifiable. The participating trade union organisations call for a change of trend, to the benefit of workers and their full participation in economic growth in the form of more jobs and improved purchasing power:
"a) The participating trade unions aim to achieve collective bargaining settlements
that correspond to the sum total of the evolution of prices and the increase
in labour productivity.
"b) The participating trade unions aim to achieve both the strengthening of mass purchasing power and employment-creating measures (e.g. shorter work times).
"c) The participating organisations will regularly inform and consult each other on developments in bargaining policy."
[On price trends, the statement notes that national unions currently use various systems for assessing price rises.]
"The trade unions of the four countries intend to examine how they can back up their demands beyond national frontiers when necessary. The trade unions are aware of the importance of responsible wage-setting within a European trade union strategy for more growth and employment. Their bargaining aims are economically justifiable and will promote a positive evolution of employment, particularly in the long term. In order to achieve this, the other economic actors (states, the European Central Bank, the employers) will also have to live up fully to their responsibilities.
"By attuning their wage policies, the participating organisations aim principally to prevent a bidding down of collectively bargained incomes between the participating countries, as sought by the employers. The trade unions see this neighbourly initiative as a step towards European cooperation on collective bargaining."
The unions go on to call for employment creation agreements at the sectoral and enterprise levels, including redistribution of work and shorter working hours. Measures to create jobs for underprivileged groups are given high priority, as are steps to make it easier to combine work with family duties. Further training must be available, and the undesirable forms of work "flexibilisation" must be avoided. Governments must base their policies on job creation and a social state. In particular, "social benefits must keep pace with wage developments." European tax systems should be harmonised in such a way as to reduce the burden on wage-earners and promote employment. Union and employer organisations must be fully involved in socio-economic decision-making.
"The participating trade union organisations have decided to keep each other intensively informed about their collective bargaining demands and results. To this end, a coordinating group of experts has been established, which is meeting regularly to exchange information and experience on collective bargaining. This working group also serves as a forum for information exchanges between the participating organisations on initiatives vis-a-vis their governments and on state measures that impact on bargaining policy."
The four countries' unions have "informed the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) of their initiative" and plan a further conference in Germany next year.
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