Helsinki (19.03.2001) Swedish forest industry EWC (European Works Council) representatives find the councils useful. In particular they appreciate the contacts and the overall picture of enterprises obtained by participating in EWC work.

These are some of the findings in a new study made by Professor Jeremy Waddington of the Manchester School of Management. The study, commissioned by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), covers five countries in all.

"The councils function as we expected and handle issues that are essential", observes economist Christer Larsson of the Swedish Paper Workers Union – Pappers.

The EWC representatives in Pappers are 49 years of age on average. Most of them are men working in a Swedish or Finnish enterprise, and are either Presidents or Vice-Presidents of their union branches. Larsson comments that EWC membership seems to be regarded as a heavyweight post in the union movement.

The study shows that the meetings are meaningful in existing EWCs. The opportunity to forge cross-border contacts between trade unionists has had a permanent impact.

Of the 33 Swedish EWC representatives who completed the questionnaire (out of 38) 19 reported regular contacts with their colleagues in other countries. In Larsson's opinion this figure is rather high and provides a positive signal.

The Swedes have most contact with their colleagues in Germany and the United Kingdom. Compared with the industry's significance in various countries the UK is over-represented and Finland is under-represented, Larsson says. He believes that the imbalance is mainly caused by language limitations.

None of the respondents reported that their own employer had a negative attitude towards EWCs. Rather the opposite was true: almost half of the respondents felt that the enterprise leadership encouraged their commitment to the EWC process.

What are the issues that enterprises bring to EWC meetings? Many of them are among those of most interest to the Swedish representatives: the economic and financial situation, strategy and investment plans, downsizing, enterprise mergers and acquisitions.

Colleagues from other countries are more eager than the Swedes to raise questions of vocational training, occupational health and safety, trade union rights, working hours and environmental protection.

Environmental protection is also an important issue for the Swedes, Larsson says. Issues that have not interested the Swedish EWC representatives so much have been those of parental leave, research and development, new technology and equality.

Basically the Swedes are satisfied with the backing, training and information provided by their own union Pappers. They seek more information about the legislation and collective agreements of other countries. The representatives also seek to know more about how foreign languages are studied elsewhere.

*This interview was written by Göran Widerberg and published on 9 February 2001 in the Swedish language net magazine Dagens Arbete. Translation by Juhani Artto.

New book:
Everything at stake
- safeguarding interests
in a world without frontiers