I. Background of the project
During the last 10 years the role of information and consultation has increased, especially after the adoption of various European Directives relating to information, consultation and participation, including the Recast EWC Directive 2009/38/EC. The on-going economic crisis in the EU has challenged systems of industrial relations, especially at company/ enterprise level, and collective bargaining processes, both at the sectoral and company levels. A key question concerns the extent to which information and consultation arrangements influence the development of industrial relations in general, and in particular what role they play under current macro-economic and financial conditions.
The results from two previous projects and other surveys (implemented by many of the same applicants) showed some inconsistent trends in the development of workplace information and consultation and their influence on industrial relations:
- There was a lack of influence of information and consultation on the processes of industrial relations, especially on collective bargaining and conflict prevention. In some EU Member States, sectors and companies, where the processes of information and consultation have a longer tradition, and where trade unions accept these processes as an ally not a competitor, the influence of information and consultation on collective bargaining proved to be more successful. For instance in Bulgaria such positive examples could be found in both the metal and brewing industries, and also in some companies where trade unions have obtained information and consultation rights via envisaged legal mechanisms. At the same time the subsidiaries of MNCs demonstrated a variety of situations. Information and consultation arrangements in many MNCs are usually better developed than in national companies, for example in some subsidiaries in Bulgaria and some other new Member States. There are also examples of this in Ireland and in the UK. This is due to the presence of EWCs and the influence of more democratic corporate cultures (in some companies). However, even in cases where better information and consultation systems and procedures exist, they are often separate from trade union representation and collective bargaining, and the influence of information and consultation - especially the influence of EWCs on collective bargaining and the settlement of labour disputes - is either insufficient or non-existent. Among the reasons for this is the fact that there are different connections and relationships between the national and European levels of representation, and their effectiveness too often depends upon the personal commitment and competence of the elected representatives;
- At the same time there is also evidence of some evasion of the law and an increase in the use of sophisticated mechanisms to circumvent rights to information and consultation, as well as trade union rights, especially in some MNCs. Employees' representatives encounter serious problems and barriers to dissemination of the information obtained through the process of information and consultation - particularly when it comes to the dissemination of information outside companies, but also in cases where they should implement their duties to inform workers and employees. This happens not only in Bulgaria and some other new EU Member States like Poland, Estonia, Cyprus and Croatia (which will join the EU on 1 July, 2013), but also in some old Member States. The problem with information dissemination more often concerns the EWC members, but sometimes it can impact upon the national representatives. At the same time the degree of recognition of information and consultation among employees is insufficient, especially concerning the activities of the EWCs, and this hampers interaction between the elected representatives and the workers / employees and trade unions. Only in countries with established traditions - such as Italy, France and Spain - does the link between information and consultation processes and industrial relations function relatively well, but generally trade unionists from some of these countries (e.g. Italy) are not sufficiently satisfied with the impact of new forms of representation on the industrial relations process.
The conclusions from these surveys and projects indicate that there are problems not only in the practical implementation of the new systems of information and consultation, especially in the new Member States and in the Member States where forms of information and consultation have been implemented only recently, but also in the interaction between information and consultation representatives and trade unions, as well as other workers' representatives. The importance of information and consultation, including EWCs, for the whole system of industrial relations should therefore be further researched and improved.
Special attention should be given to the influence of information and consultation rights and practices on the development and improvement of other workplace rights, including labour related rights as a whole (related to working conditions, payment, equal treatment etc.) as well as rights related to organising, collective bargaining, the just and fair resolution of labour disputes (individual and collective), and strikes.
The most substantial area of industrial relations - collective bargaining and dispute resolution - could be significantly enhanced with higher quality information, which could be obtained mainly through information and consultation channels. This is of crucial importance under conditions of economic crisis or/and under conditions of technological and organisational change. The fact that such channels are not used enough in some countries - especially some new Member States (Bulgaria and Cyprus) and countries which started to use the special channels for information and consultation more recently (Ireland and the UK) - indicates that there are still problems in the communication between the various kinds of representatives, or/and a lack of ability to use the information provided or to obtain such information due to the reluctance of employers to fully provide relevant information. The better practices in those Member States with a longer experience thus appear as a rather special case - such as in Italy where the representation is single-channel, trade unions in practice implement the functions of information and consultation, and the exchange of information is more fluent.
Since the conditions in MNCs and their subsidiaries differ from those in national companies, and the activities of EWCs are a special case, it will be useful to review the similarities and differences in the influence of information and consultation systems and practices (including EWCs, where they exist) between MNC subsidiaries and national enterprises. In MNCs, where changes are more frequent and often more radical, the role of transnational information and consultation mechanisms (EWCs and similar structures) is more important than is information and consultation at the national level. At the same time, in national enterprises information and consultation mechanisms are not always used in the most appropriate way in cases of restructuring, technological work organisation and innovation.
Moreover, the findings of most of the surveys suggest that amendments to the legislation (at both national and EU-level) are needed. Amendments are usually related to the extension of rights to information and consultation, especially the areas of activity, but also to the improvement of the role of trade unions and other workers' representatives in the mechanisms for information and consultation. Further surveys and analysis will provide more details and justification of the required improvements in national legislation, and will also provide possible suggestions for new provisions in some of the EU Directives, for example the information and consultation framework Directive 2002/14/EC.
II. Aims and objectives of the project
Aims of the project
- To study the place of information and consultation in systems and mechanisms of industrial relations at company and national levels, and through European Works Councils and other transnational structures, and their impact upon certain key aspects of the processes of industrial relations, in particular labour and trade union rights, collective bargaining and the prevention of industrial conflict;
- To analyse similarities and differences in the impact of information and consultation on industrial relations in national enterprises with more than 50 employees and in the subsidiaries of MNCs, and to refine the analysis of the interaction between national and transnational levels of information and consultation and their impact on industrial relations;
- To compare industrial relations and the impact of information and consultation (national and MNCs) on the process of industrial relations at company level - and in particular on the issues mentioned above - within several EU Member States (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Ireland and the UK); to specify similarities and differences in the approaches and practices of the new Member States, such as Bulgaria and Cyprus, and the old Member States; to make a comparative analysis of the approaches and practices between countries where information and consultation models are relatively new and countries with long traditions, such as Italy;
- To improve the capacity, knowledge and skills of shop-stewards/workers' representatives and employers in relation to the use of systems and processes of information and consultation, in order to improve the performance of the mechanisms of industrial relations at company level for the protection of workers' and trade union rights, for better participation in the collective bargaining process and for the prevention of collective disputes and conflicts;
- To develop proposals for the improvement of legal provisions, the methodology of collective labour agreements, the internal mechanisms within companies and agreements at national and sectoral levels;
- To improve partnership among the stakeholders involved in the project by developing measures for the improvement of the impact of information and consultation on industrial relations in the co-applicant countries and across the EU as a whole;
- To make recommendations for the improvement of information and consultation arrangements insofar as these impact upon industrial relations processes.
All these specific aims are in line with the priorities of the Budget Heading, as the project:
- aims to promote improvement in the implementation of Directives 2001/14/EC, 2002/14/EC, 2003/72/EC and 2009/38/EC;
- aims to promote innovative actions, relating to the management of information and consultation, with a view to supporting the anticipation of change and the prevention and resolution of disputes via research into the role of information and consultation for the prevention of industrial tensions and conflict, and the improvement of social partnership at company level in the partner countries;
- aims to strengthen transnational co-operation between workers' and employers' representatives through the participation in the project of the largest representative employers' organisation in Bulgaria - the Bulgarian Industrial Association;
- aims to promote transnational actions involving representatives from the new Member States in the field of information, consultation and participation of workers via transnational comparative analysis, national workshops and roundtable discussions.
- To Research the existing literature, previous analysis and survey data relating to information and consultation arrangements and their role in the improvement of social partnership at company level in each co-applicant country;
- To collect data at the national level on the processes mentioned in the project aims and to present these data in five Country Reports;
- To organise five National Workshops (one in each co-applicant country) for discussion, exchange of experience, capacity building in terms of knowledge and skills of workers' representatives and employers, and for collecting suggestions for innovations and improvements in social partnership at company level;
- To organise three roundtable discussions for the project team - and including some experts from Poland, Croatia, Hungary and France (one day each after the second third and fourth project meetings) - for sharing information, building experience and finding solutions to the issues to be surveyed;
- To develop, publish and translate in the languages of the co-applicants a European Survey on the impact of information and consultation on the issues defined in the project aims, based on the results of the national research and the exchange of experience and good practice examples between the partners during the national workshops and roundtable discussions;
- To organise and hold a Final International Conference in order to present the research findings, spread knowledge and good practice examples to a broader public and other countries/regions, and enhance the mainstreaming of the project results into other national and regional contexts;
- To maintain and improve the already established network (developed during the INFORMIA I and INFORMIA II projects) for the further exchange of experience between the partner countries, other countries and key stakeholders in the sphere of information, consultation and workers' representation.