Debt crisis harming industrial relations: EU report
By Benjamin Fox
EU austerity programmes are putting the bloc's social model under strain by isolating trade unions and employers, a report by the European Commission indicated Thursday (11 April).
Launching the 300-page report on 'Industrial relations in Europe in 2012', EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor said that there was "a clear need to revitalise industrial relations across Europe" adding that co-ordinated austerity cuts had "brought a wave of industrial unrest" across Europe.
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Andor said there was a need "to reinforce the role of social partners at all levels if we are to come out of this crisis and preserve the benefits of the European social model."
The words come as governments across Europe have cut public spending to rein in budget deficits. Bailout countries have seen the severest industrial unrest.
But the commission report found that reforms had been imposed on workers with little consultation.
Policies in Greece had been "decided unilaterally by emergency decree with virtually no attempt to involve the social partners," while consultation with workers in the likes of Spain, Italy and Portugal had been "fragile" and "tokenistic."
Greece also saw the highest number of strikes, with a total of 838 between January 2011 and April 2012 including 46 general strikes.
The troika of international lenders has increasingly been criticised for imposing stiff conditions and large public sector job cuts as part of bailout packages.
Prior to a meeting of EU leaders in March, demonstrators protested in the commission's economic and financial unit, headed by commissioner Olli Rehn.
Andor, one of the few left-wing commissioners and outspoken on the need for growth policies, maintained that there was no internal conflict between his department and that of Rehn's.
Meanwhile, the EU executive also revealed large disparities in industrial relations and trade union strength.
Workers' groups are particularly weak in central and eastern Europe. While 70 percent of workers in western member states are covered by collective wage agreements, this sinks to 44 percent in eastern Europe.
The commission noted that in Latvia and Lithuania the "weakness of organised labour has persuaded trade unions to accept austerity packages."