Helsinki (01.07.1999 - Juhani Artto) Over 600 delegates at the 9th ETUC Congress listened carefully to the words of Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, whose country had assumed the EU-presidency just ten hours earlier. The tall, 56 year-old Finnish Premier recently made his mark by spending one week on paternity leave, as is now the right of all fathers of new-born babies in Finland. Mr Lipponen was warmly received by the European trade union leaders.
Mr Lipponen, a union member himself, is clear in his attitude towards the role of trade unions, beginning his formal remarks with the words: "Cooperation among European trade unions isan encouraging example of a successful and pioneering way of working together in a changing Europe". He finished by congratulating the ETUC for the work which has been done and he characterised the Congress as a significant tour de force. "We need real partnership to make Europe successful", he affirmed.
While Lipponen refrained from making concrete promises to work for the ETUC's demands, there was nothing in his speech which was at variance with basic ETUC policy.
After the speech ETUC representatives gave Mr Lipponen their "ETUC Memorandum to the Finnish Presidency". This 7-page document includes several demands, proposals and recommendations which the ETUC expects Finland to promote during its six month EU-Presidency.
At the top of the memorandum is employment. The ETUC refers - in true Brussels bureaucratic style - to "the three processes of the European Employment Pact - i.e. the Luxembourg employment process, the Cardiff structural reform process and the Cologne macroeconomic process", affirming that "the policy framework for achieving better performance is in place."
"Part of the task of the Finnish presidency is therefore not to reinvent the wheel but to ensure that these processes become fully operational and that full synergy is achieved between them", the ETUC insists.
The second point in the ETUC memorandum is that "the Presidency should table for active discussion the European lessons that could be learnt from the Finnish buffer fund scheme for dealing with asymmetric shocks". This refers to an arrangement in Finland which was part of the EMU entrance conditions defined by the trade unions. According to this arrangement approximately one per cent of Finland's GDP is reserved for use as a means of protecting the international competitiveness of the Finnish economy when necessary. Before the EMU Era Finland regularly devalued the Finnish Markka to improve the competitiveness of its export industries and domestic market enterprises. The advent of the single currency has consigned this method to the history books.
"The nature of the EU's new, single monetary regime is becoming clearer and there is active discussion of the role of structural policy. What is still missing, however, is any discussion of the role which flexible fiscal policies can and should play, and which neither monetary nor structural policies can realise as consolidation is increasingly achieved. The Presidency should take initiatives in this area", the ETUC proposes.
"Linked to this is the need to develop the European dimension of tax policy and, in particular, to combat harmful tax competition. The ETUC looks forward to the Presidency being able to reach a successful conclusion, particularly on the issues of savings taxation and reduced rates of VAT."
The ETUC calls on the Presidency to initiate work at the Council on a "Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees within the European Community".
The ETUC also calls on the Presidency to take the initiative for modern sustainable employment "as practical experience has shown that environmental and employment issues complement one another".
"The need to bring the Union closer to its citizens is becoming more evident every day. The ETUC therefore proposes that the fundamental civil and social rights of citizens and workers should be included on the agenda of the IGC (intergovernmental conference) with a view to being integrated into the Treaty."
The ETUC wants third country nationals legally residing and working within a Member State of the EU to be covered by its social security system. The need to coordinate pre-retirement systems is one point to which the ETUC refers specifically.
The first sentence of a short chapter on the enlargement of the European Union summarises its core demand: "The social dimension must be given more prominent consideration".
The deregulation of the global economy "must benefit ordinary people and not merely élites - and for that reason, and certainly not for reasons of protectionism" The ETUC insists that respect for human rights, including human rights at work, must be promoted.
The Finnish central trade union organisations: SAK, STTK and Akava have submitted common initiatives for the Finnish Presidency of the EU. "The Finnish government is in a key position to secure and extend the participation rights of European wage-earners. The EU draft directive on provision of information to workers and their consultation at national level has broad support in the Council of Ministers and European Parliament. Promoting this in the Council of Ministers will become relevant towards the end of 1999 during the Finnish Presidency. Closely related to this is also the issue of revising the European Works Council directive", the three central organisations say.
"During Finland's Presidency a negotiated result by the labour market partners on fixed-term employment contracts will be on the agenda. It is also possible that there will be talks between the social partners on contract labour" SAK, STTK and STTK add.
Per-Erik Lund, President of the Finnish Metalworkers Union, made several concrete proposals on how to reform the European Works Council directive. Council members should be elected for multi-year terms, they should have an enterprise-specific right to study languages and business finance and also to attend courses which will broaden their knowledge of working life, of enterprise culture and of legislation in various countries.
Pekka Hynönen, President of the Finnish Construction Trade Union, demanded improvements to the collective bargaining system to strengthen the generally binding character of agreements. The core demand is to concede generally binding status to the most representative agreement in an industrial sector. Finland's 1970 Employment Contracts Act recognises the generally binding character of collective agreements, but the Supreme Court of Finland has interpreted this to apply only where a minimum of roughly half of the employees working for organised employers in the industry are trade union members. This interpretation has recently caused problems because, especially in the construction industry and transport sectors, a significant proportion of employers are not organised. "Next autumn, this issue will be at the top of the negotiation agenda for the new general incomes policy agreement between the trade unions, employer organisations and the government", Hynönen promised.
Jouni Riskilä, President of the Finnish Trade Union for the Municipal Sector, referred to the problem of European public sector employers lacking a common European organisation. He was therefore satisfied with the Congress draft of the "Industrial Relations Resolution" in which the ETUC expresses its willingness to promote European social dialogue and the application of EU-directives also in the public sector.
The General Resolution of the ETUC Congress, which runs to more than 20 pages in all, was approved in the morning session after the delegates had achieved consensus or voted on more than 60 proposed amendments. Resistance to plans to strengthen the European Union's federalist character had prompted some union representatives, especially those from Denmark, to submit several amendment proposals.
"Several amendments reflected national organisation interests. Discussion of the issues was now deeper than at our Congress four years ago. The discussions were clearly a step forward in formulating our strategy", the ETUC President Fritz Verzetnitsch analysed in the press conference at the end of the day.