Thursday, January 29, 2015


Part of the front of the seminar brochure

Changes on the labour-market: is there light at the end of the tunnel” was the title of another 2 days seminar organized by WOW, the Austrian affiliate FCG/GPA-djp, the Danish affiliate KRIFA and of course EZA, the European centre for Workers education subsidized by the European Commission. Some 45 trade union leaders and activists from 18 European countries and a delegation of the Turkish Bank and Insurance Employees Union BASS listened to 6 high level experts from different European countries, they discussed in working groups the main problems and they debated with a panel of 3 trade union leaders from 3 different European countries.

Before the official opening of the seminar we see from left to right: EZA President Bartho Pronk, EO/WOW President Guenther Trausznitz, Gertrud Wiesinger of the FCG/GPA-djp, member of Austrian Parliament August Wöginger and FCG/GPA-djp President Wolfgang Pischinger.

The seminar was opened by EZA President Bartho Pronk who comforted us with the fact that history proves that the kind of crisis we are experiencing today, normally takes ten to eleven years. So indeed probably within one or two years we are approaching the end of the tunnel. The question is what kind of light will there be? One thing is certain, the labour market will be never the same again. So the question is, what kind of labour market we will have? We expect the invited experts to provide us with the necessary data,  analysis and ideas for answers on these questions.

Coffeebreak. In the background from left to right EZA President Bartho Pronk talking with WOW President Roel Rotshuizen and Gerard van Linden of the Dutch CNV Dienstenbond. In the foreground left Portuguese SINERGIA President Alfonso Almeida Cardoso and his colleague.

Mr. August Wöginger, member of the Austrian Parliament , trade union member and secretary general of the ÖAAB (The Austrian Union of Workers is the workers organization of the Austrian People's Party ÖVP ) told us about “Changes on the labour market as political task of the employee-representatives”. While Austria, compared to other European countries, is not doing bad on the labour market, unemployment among young people and workers older than 50 years is too high. The reasons for this are: too much unqualified workers and too little low qualified jobs, too little high qualified jobs, too few apprenticeships and too much early retirement schemes. What must be done? More and better education and training (compulsory until 18), more women working, working longer (part-time work for older employees combined with part-time retirement), tax reform (less tax paid on labour).

From left to right: Danish professor Henrik Schärfe, EO/WOW President Guenther Trausznitz and Alfred Gajdosik of the European Economic and Social Committee.

The presentation of the Danish professor Henrik Schärfe of the Danish Aalborg University, on “the role of technology and the boundaries between humans and machines and what may be the effects for the future labour market” was not only spectacular but also surprising. He gave us an idea what the future will bring: more robots and even androids (robots that look like human beings) that will take over many jobs (pilots, cleaners, car drivers and so on). He himself has build an android that looks like him and who probably made the first android selfie ever, that had traveled by airplane and that was a teacher on the university. His presentation on the future of robots and androids was on one side frightening because robots may take over many jobs which means a drastic change at the labour market. On the other side, androids will help us to make life more comfortable and easy. But there are also urgent questions. For example will this new technology not widen the gap between rich and poor, between high and low educated workers? Questions which need to be answered in the near future.

Member of the EO/WOW Board and FCG/GPA-djp President Wolfgang Pischinger (left) and Alfred Gajdosik of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Alfred Gajdosik (Austrian member of the European Economic and Social Committee) gave “an overview on the implications of a flexible labour-market” and “what the effects are of the growing job insecurity.” The flexible labour-market is a reality in most European countries: part-time working, zero hour contracts, outsourcing to autonomous workers or other countries, short-term contracts etc. It seems that the life time contracts are becoming more and more a minority on the labour market. This of course has consequences for pension systems, social security like unemployment insurance, health care insurance and other social implications like family life and social life in general. Trade unions must look for answers on these challenges on the labour market and decide what is the individual responsibility and what should be arranged by the state and what should be done by private enterprises?

The Dutch Labour economist Ronald Dekker (left) and CGM President and member of the EO/WOW Board Adalbert Ewen.

The Dutch labour economist Ronald Dekker of the Tilburg university wondered about “what the effects are of changing labour relations for both the employee as well the employer?” He made the remarkable observation that “flexibilisation on an inherently imperfect labour market does NOT (by default) lead to better outcomes." At the same time “labour markets are generally becoming more flexible in the sense that a larger share of the workforce is not directly employed on open ended contracts”. This is not all good. It provokes unequal pay for equal work, the evading of minimum workers rights and precariousness. Trade Unions must therefore empower “the flexible worker”. It should be stressed that “what's good for business is NOT by default good for society: more labour market flexibility does NOT result in more jobs and flexible workers (including own account workers) are NOT the direct 'enemies' of permanent workers.

Meeting of the working group of participants coming from Serbia, Republica Srpska-BiH, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

What is the price of flexible work? The Dutch Profesor Agnes Akkerman of the Amsterdam university investigated this question through a survey of 500 employees, comparing flexible workers with standard workers and teleworkers with not-teleworkers. The survey gave the following conclusions: overall flex workers are not less happy at work, they have a different relationship with their colleagues (more affective than functional), different ways to seek help, different responses to discontent (less willingness for collective actions like for example strikes) and a higher level of undesirable behavior (probably caused by the lack of functional contacts on the workplace).

From left to right: WOW Treasurer Rolf Weber from KRIFA Denmark moderating the panel consisting of Gerard van Linden (CNV Dienstenbond, Netherlands), Savvas Pelentrides (POAS, Cyprus) and Soren Fibiger Olesen (KRIFA, Denmark)

It appeared at the working groups and later during the panel debates that every country has its own experiences with the growing flexible labour market, flexible working times and places, the outsourcing of labour, displacement of labour etc. It is clear that each trade union must look for its own solutions in its own country. An overall European solution does not exist. It was agreed that indeed we are approaching the end of the tunnel but also that there will be an other light than before. There are indeed major challenges for the trade unions to deal with in the coming years.

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