Europe - Global - The rising wave of policies against working people in Europe (2012)

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.

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