Electricty network in Europe
08 December 2010

EU Project

Report on the 1st meeting of the EVDSZ project ’Electricity network in Europe’

Budapest, 29-30 November. 2010

The event was opened by the representative of the main applicant Rezső Gál, president of the Trade Union Association of United Electricity Workers. He welcomed the Slovak, Czech, Romanian and Hungarian project partners present. In his opening he referred to the fact that international capital has become global therefore we should admit that solutions to the problems of workers will not always be available in a given member state. The EWC directive reflects this situation. EWCs are important for the trade unions because they are important forums of workers representatives for information, consultation and participation at the international level. They show – the president emphasized – that we have many things in common with our Romanian, Czech, Slovak, French and German colleagues.

Rezső Gál explained that EVDSZ organised a conference on European Works Councils already last year in November with the participation of the representatives of the management and Works council presidents of EDF, RWE, E.ON and Schneider Electronic. The importance of works councils and the activities of the European Works Councils were highlighted at this conference from the perspective of the trade unions in the affiliates in Hungary. One of the conclusions of the conference was that a regular dialogue is needed among the different EWC members so as to help their work and the exchange of experiences. EVDSZ submitted a project proposal to the EU in order to continue this dialogue. Finally, he expressed his hope that the contacts among the partner organisations will strengthen during and after the project.

The next speaker was László Kozák. On behalf of the project development team of EVDSZ, he made the opening presentation. He referred to the common interest of trade unions in strengthening the dialogue at the European level and to the fact that initiatives have been made in the past decades to achieve this. Some initiatives have been more successful than the others. An example for the less successful initiatives was the problem of the European right for strike, the European Trade Unions wanted to include in the new European Constitution already in 2005 but without success. At the same time, he added, the recast of the European Works Council Directive is a success story, because the explanations of the new directive clearly highlight the trade union issues the new version taking force in June 2011 responds to. Trade unions or EWC representatives should not necessarily be fully satisfied with the new directive, because what they achieved goes often beyond the minimum conditions in the directive – e.g., in the companies the project will analyse more thoroughly. The new directive reflects therefore a set of conditions that can be expanded in the future. László Kozák expressed his hope that the project will contribute to this process.

The introductory notes were followed by a PowerPoint presentation on the project, its objectives and timing, so that the participants can precisely define the project aims and the process. László Kozák drew the attention to the fact that this is the time for the project partners to discuss the problems they want to find an answer to by the end of the one-year project period. The project is on the possibilities of strengthening the EWC structures in the electricity industry through studying the voluntary social dialogue institutions of employers and employees with special focus on practices of RWE, E.ON and EDF. The participants consulted on telephone with trade unions not being able to be present at this meeting, and agreed on the project schedule with the following dates:

Working group seminars:
21-22 February 2011: Budapest, Hungary
21-22 March 2011: Germany
11-12 April 2011: France
Conference to be held in Budapest, Hungary, 17-18 June 2011.

The participants discussed the assessment of EWCs and the experiences of the participating project partners. Hereafter is a selection of the most important discussion points.

József Szilágyi, deputy president of EVDSZ, disapproved in his contribution that the sectoral social dialogue at the European level does not have an appropriate impact on the EWC agreements. It would be expedient, he said, to establish forums where Works Councils, trade unions and the company management could have trilateral negotiations. He also raised the question that it has not been decided yet who is entitled to delegate representatives to the EWCs. There are no regulations and the countries follow different practices.

Christian Muntenau explained that four years ago in Romania they had great hopes in connection with the EWCs, but their role is practically limited to information on the operations of the company, and do not resolve serious problems. In his view, the EWCs would have more rights, if the regulation guaranteed also co-decision right for workers’ representatives – like e.g., in Sweden. Lately, they wrote a letter together with representatives of 4 countries to the E.ON management and protested against the fact that there are no further investments planned. The information provided by the management is insufficient, and the wage differences are substantial. They did not receive any answer to the letter. Therefore, he thinks that the vision, their hopes was more optimistic, especially as they see that the management of the companies does not always interpret the rules as they should have to.

Martin Picmaus compared some of the companies to the “veterinarian horse” and mentioned that several problems arise at the different levels. He gave specific examples to how an EWC can enforce changes within E.ON, e.g., in the transformation of the IT area where the company took the coordinated view of the EWC into account.

Marian Bananka explained that in the Czech Republic, there is a consulting body working next to the 3 companies that has the right to express opinion on the type of information the EWC must receive. The EWC agreement stipulates that the Works Council has a social and economic committee; this example is worth to be followed and EWCs should also establish social and economic committees.

József Szilágyi explained that according to his experiences, the good relation between the trade unions and the EWC members is a precondition to the successful work of the EWC; if the contacts are not good, there are no results.

Rezső Gál added that the disappointment about the EWC achievements may be justified, however, against the background of the conflict around the sectoral social dialogue in Hungary, they managed to have E.ON in Düsseldorf understand what principles of the local management of E.ON is breaching in Hungary. After this, the management of the holding contacted the Hungarian management. In this case, the European approach and negotiating level helped to solve a local conflict.

Rita Potápi, external expert of the project, raised in connection with this, that it was worth considering a summary of best practices in a table form that defines the problems, the legal base and the solution EWCs initiated, and also a reference if the problem was resolved or not. The participants accepted this proposal.

József Szilágyi proposed to prepare a table where the rights of the managements, trade unions and the EWCs were summarised at the European, the multinational, the Member State, the corporation and local company level.

This was followed by a presentation of Rita Potápi on the administrative challenges of the project, and then she answered the questions.

Sándor Nagy, the Hungarian EWC member of EDF, explained that the group had 12-13 committees in the past years. Today, there are only 5 or 6. One of the most important ones is the consolidated balance sheet group, which receives the data and the information on wages, headcount and the investments of the group. This makes it possible to prepare arguments for the wage negotiations with the employer, in case their performance reaches the level of that of other Member States. The EWC was a help in many problems. In one of the companies the employer rejected to make a collective agreement. As a response to that, the next EWC meeting was organised in this company and the problem of collective agreements was put on the agenda. As a result of the meeting, the employer was willing to sign a collective agreement within a couple of months.

The collective agreement can include regulations the parties may not see clearly the validity of in advance. In case of restructuring, for example, benefits can be included even if the company is far from thinking of any restructuring. It is also important to develop other agreements as well, like on minimum standards, a Social Charter or a Code of Conduct. In the end, he described a problem of the Mátra Power Plant. Next to RWE, a new owner joined the company and took over the financial, accounting and controlling activities. Although there was a valid agreement made with RWE on the provision of data, they could not bind the new owner to provide data to the EWC members.

Ernő Pinczés, the Hungarian EWC representative of E.ON explained that E.ON runs an interest conciliation forum in Hungary for trade unions, EWCs and management. The employees made the experience that they receive more information from the EWC than from the management.

Rezső Gál added that with the help of EPSU, its representatives can participate at the EWC meetings upon approval of the management. EVDSZ organises regularly forums for RWE, E.ON, EDF and EWC representatives where they discuss new ideas and explain best practices for trade union and EWC members. The electricity industry in Hungary introduced the so-called “baby pension”, which is a possibility for elderly employees not to be dismissed, but to remain on the headcount of the company and be paid 70 % of their wages. Such examples can be adapted, if there is appropriate reception.

On the second day, the project partners discussed the themes of the workshops in detail and supplemented the project plan with the proposals raised. The possibility was raised to invite the EWC presidents of the companies together with the management representatives to the three working group seminars, and that employers’ representatives need to be asked to make a presentation on the first conference day. With the participation of the EWC presidents, a panel discussion should be held at the conference instead of the country reports.

The following problems were discussed in detail:

The language and the content of the planned website
Although English is the official project language, publications in other languages will also be made accessible by the website developers. These can be background documents, also accessible on other website, but also documents on the project, examples and best practices. After registration, the website will also offer possibilities for forum contributions, so two Czech EWC members, while looking for useful documents on the site can chat with each other in their mother tongue on the documents found, but they may also talk to EWC representatives of other countries in English to discuss specific issues. The website is already accessible through the website www.vd.hu in the English and in the Hungarian languages.

The role of the EWC coordinators
The EWC coordinators are responsible to collect and transfer minimum information, but beyond this they should provide support to EWC members and facilitate the establishment of new European Works Councils. (It was mentioned that the initiative on the establishment of an EWC should be written with great care.) The coordinators must have a thorough knowledge of the themes of the European sectoral dialogue, so that they can provide appropriate information to EWC members on these issues, as well. Should there be several coordinators in a country a national coordinator should be elected in the future. The coordinators should not only provide help to the EWCs of the project companies, but to others as well.

The nature and the themes of the information film to be prepared
During the discussion, it has become clear that longer professional and shorter informative films can be prepared. Manuela Dragomir said that it was important to define the target group and to formulate the message appropriately. (Are we communicating with the society or with the employees, with experts or EWC members? Do we communicate about EWCs in general or about the current project?) The possibility of a multi-language video spot with English subtitles’ was also mentioned. Rita Potápi promised that after collecting the views of the partner organisations, the main applicant will send the draft of the VHS film to the project organisations.

Finally, it was emphasized that the more the partners contribute to the project, the more they will benefit from it. In conclusion, Rezső Gál wished all the best for the cooperation, and hoped that in a year’s time a successful and important project can be concluded.

László Kozák

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