SEE Trade Union Forum: The Trade Union Way to the EU

Meeting of the SEE Trade Union Forum, financially supported by the Foundation Friedrich Ebert – Office in Belgrade and Swedish Trade unions LO TCO, was held in Skopje – Macedonia on 24 25 October 2011. Of the total of 30 participants, the meeting was attended by the members of SEE Trade Union Forum, representative of UIL Italy - from PERC national sister organizations in Europe, Director and his associates from FES Office in Belgrade, Director and an associate from FES Office for Macedonia, as well as staff of the PERC Secretariat. The meeting was also attended by Mr. Josef Niemiec – ETUC Deputy Secretary General.

Topics of the meetings were: (1) Possible framework approach for the drafting of a new PERC Program for 2011-2015; Expectations of SEE Trade Unions from PERC, what could be done within the scope of PERC Program and activities; (2) Reforms of the pensions systems in SEE countries – positions of trade unions, actions, achievements, and challenges – Planning of the Regional Tripartite Conference; (3) New proposal for the Project on taxation systems, informal economy, and corruption; (4) Modernization and reform of trade unions – towards the successful conduct of social dialog and the role of trade unions in the processes of European integrations; (5) Celebration of the World Day of Decent Work in SEE countries, programs and measures of the governments in SEE countries, programs for employment and overarching financial and economic crises; (6) Participation of trade unions in democratic processes and current events in the world – positions and ideas of the Trade Union Forum; (7) Conclusions, next meeting, venue and time of meeting.

Mrs. Marija Hanževački chaired the meeting for the first time, after she was elected at the previous Forum meeting – held in Sarajevo in November 2011. On behalf of the three trade unions in Macedonia, as a host, the participants in the meeting were greeted by the President of SSM, Mr. Živko Mitrevski.

The representatives of the Macedonian trade unions insisted to have the interpretation into the Macedonian language in addition to the interpretation to the BSC and English language, and the interpreters for the language of the host country were secured.

(1) Possible framework approach for the drafting of a new PERC Program for 2011-2015

The Forum participants, in addition to Invitation and Agenda, were previously provided with the document “Possible framework approach for the drafting of a new PERC Program for 2011 2015”, in English and BSC language, so that they could prepare their response related to this proposal. As for the need to make decision on priorities for future PERC Program, the participants talked about current issues of workers and citizens in SEE countries, growing crisis, increased unemployment, introduction of austerity measures – as the government measures in their respective countries, extremely difficult and depressive situation. It was highlighted that there is a growing need for the work on the preservation of trade unions, as they lose their members, while the trade union pluralism and the matter of representation also contribute to the weakening of trade unions and trade union movement. It was pointed out that ITUC PERC, together with ILO; need to work on the improvement of standards for the representation. Then, the matter of employment: it is so difficult to talk about new employment in the current situation, and the employment at any cost should not be accepted, that is, people should not accept new employment if the fundamental workers’ rights will not be respected. The workers did not create this crisis and they should not bear the burden of it, as it is the case now. Social dialog is a necessity, but it has be evaluated which other industrial actions should be taken by the trade unions to protect the basic workers’ rights. It was pointed out that three Macedonian trade unions /SSM, UNASM, and KSS) signed the Memorandum of understanding and developed a good cooperation, and that they in this way took active role in ESC and making proposals for the new Law minimal wage, Law on the Council of employees, as well as in harmonization of other legislation with the European standards. Macedonian trade unions ask help from ETUC to facilitate the meeting with the trade unions from Greece, so that Greece finally stops interfering with the Macedonian integration to EU. As for the situation in Montenegro, which has its specifics – the anti trade union action is in place. Trade unions have problems coping with global politics, problems in the banking sector, and problems of workers in multinational companies. Strikes are not solution, and they only create bigger damage than the benefit. The chance is in sustainable development and creation of conditions for “green economy”.

The events and protests at “Wall Street” were discussed, as they spread in many other countries. In Croatia, trade unions took part in protests, and they also acknowledged that the public awareness is growing, which facilitates direct democracy. This is important for trade unions, and that is the reasons why synergy between trade unions and citizens has to be developed. For a while, trade unions parted from citizens, and they only dealt with their own members, bit now it is important to act globally. Civic initiative is an expression of direct democracy, but the trade unions are interest organizations of their members and they actively create their own policies and actions. Trade unions differ from NGO and civic initiative, and it will be evaluated when they would become their ally.

Participants raised an issue of a newly established trade union structure from former Yugoslavia known as Council for cooperation “SOLIDARNOST”, which has started lately discussing similar or same matters of interest for trade unions – which joined this new structure. The question of duplication and overlapping of activities with SEE Trade Union Forum activities was raised by the members of Solidarnost. Some of the Forum participants stated that the Forum meetings were not addressing issues of their concern, organizes once year were not enough to talk about all the matters of their interest, so that they, together with the ZSSS “Savez sindikata Slovenije”, with the unselfish support from the FES Office Belgrade, joined this new structure “Solidarnost”. Acting Secretary General of SSCG stated that he was not satisfied with PERC, that they did not get assistance to become a member of ETUC, and also that were never invited to the ETUC Congress in Greece, although they received such a promise. Both Albanian trade unions, as well as BSPK Kosovo emphasized the need of PERC activities, and that they see only that structure as the place for the trade union cooperation in the region. NHS Croatia – did not join the new structure, as they believe that there is no need for the multiplication of activities and wasting of capacities on two sides. To this end, Grigor Gradev – PERC Executive Secretary pointed out that the trade unions are independent and that they can cooperate with whomever they like, but rather that it is not good to overlap activities of these two structures, and that ITUC PERC has never been invited to any of their meetings, not even informed about the creation of this new structure “Solidarnost”. However ITUC/PERC will not engage in organizing parallel and unnecessary activities. Once the Forum is not really useful ITUC/PERC will be ready to shift to other type of activities but as only they know what is the orientation in the other structure they should suggest relevant areas and topics which are not parallel activities. There were no forthcoming ideas but to this end, the participants pointed out that regardless of this structure Solidarnost, they still needed PERC and the Forum, and that PERC was not challenged whatsoever.

After these discussions, Forum adopted Framework Proposed PERC Program for 2011-2015.

ETUC Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Josef Niemiec emphasized that ITUC and ETUC decided jointly to establish PERC structure, which will assist the capacity building of trade unions for the European integrations. ETUC has submitted a project for EU financing to address these issues and is waiting for the outcome. The Forum structure can be improved and adjusted to a new situation, which is the reason for planning and organization of appropriate activities. ETUC was similarly heavily criticized for not being helpful. J. Niemiec explained that ITUC and ETUC do not have answers to all the questions, but it is important that the trade unions say what they want and which is their joint proposal for action related to certain issues. Response pointed that SEE unions know what they want but what is on offer is not it.

(2) Reforms of the pensions systems in SEE countries – positions of trade unions, actions, achievements, and challenges – Planning of the Regional Tripartite Conference:

Enisa Salimović – ITUC-PERC Office Sarajevo Coordinator briefly presented the current activities of legal and economic experts from the SEE trade unions, which were based on the Letter of intent nominated by their organizations to take part in the Project “Role of trade unions in pension system reforms”. Project is funded by trade unions LO Norway and it has given a remarkable contribution to the trade union positions and actions related to pension system reforms. This was evident during the round tables at the national levels, and it was also confirmed during the previous Forum meeting in Sarajevo. At this moment, the national documents updated with latest data are again in their final stage, they are translated into English language, and soon a Brochure with these documents will be published. The Conference, as the final activity in this Project is also planned.

Grigor Gradev talked about the plan for a tripartite Conference in cooperation with ILO Regional Office in Budapest. The proposal was accepted to have the Conference on 13 14 December in Zagreb, Croatia, and the Forum participants booked those dates.

(3) New proposal for the Project on fiscal systems, informal economy, and corruption

G. Gradev informed Forum that the work and reports of the Network of economic experts and experts in the Project on pension system reforms in SEE countries identified some very important issues, which slowed down any success in SEE countries, the reason for social injustice and inequality, breakers of good reforms and sustainable development. They are (1) taxation systems; (2) informal economy, and (3) corruption. PERC Secretariat prepared a proposal for a new project, which will be delivered to the organizations – Forum members, so that trade unions that want to engage and develop national and regional strategies on these matters can confirm their intention to participate and can give their ideas and suggestions.

(4) Modernization and reform of trade unions – towards the successful conduct of social dialog and the role of trade unions in the processes of European integrations

As important, this topic was proposed by trade unions KSSH Albania and SSM Macedonia. For the next Forum meeting, ETUC and ITUC will be invited to talk to the SEE trade unions about good practices and experiences related to this topic.

(5) Celebration of the World Day of Decent Work in SEE countries, programs and measures of the governments in SEE countries, programs for employment and overarching financial and economic crises

The proposal for this topic of the Forum meeting came from trade unions SSSH Croatia. The World Day of Decent Work, 7 October 2011, was also celebrated in SEE countries, and financially supported by ITUC. In Croatia, UATUC and NHS organized joint activities to emphasize the problem of part time jobs, as a model of precarious jobs, which is so present nowadays in Croatia. SSCG Montenegro organized this year a round table with the representatives of authorities, and they simulated the boxing ring and they used the ITUC placard. Trade unions in Serbia also organized various activities as the public discussion, press conferences, round table and distribution of leaflets with basic information about this day. BSPK Kosovo used ITUC placard and they organized an activity in which they dealt with labor laws, while emphasizing the need to respect the basic workers’ rights. BiH also celebrated the World Day of Decent Work: in Banja Luka – a round table with the representatives of trade unions and two other social partners, which pointed out the need for the respecting the workers’ rights and laws, and the improvement of the role of labor inspections. In Sarajevo, the youth structures of SSSBiH and SSRS also organized a workshop on youth employment and decent work. Three trade unions of Macedonia organized a joint seminar and workshop, and they produced a leaflet with the basic workers’ rights, with a special emphasis on women’s rights. UIL Italy marked 7 October by asking for the amendments related to the immigrant workers. It was proposed that the future years be marked with better, more attractive activities on decent work.

(6) Participation of trade unions in democratic processes and current events in the world – positions and ideas of the Trade Union Forum

This topic was discussed under item 1 on the Agenda of the Forum meeting.

(7) Conclusions, next meeting, venue and time of meeting

Forum conclusions:

1. Support for the Framework Proposed PERC Program for 2011–2015 /attached to this Report/

2. The proposal was adopted to organize a tripartite Conference in cooperation with ILO, as the final activity in the Project “Role of trade unions in pension system reforms in SEE countries”. Conference venue: Zagreb, date: 13-14 December 2011.

3. Acceptance to start work on the three-year proposed project, prepared by PERC Secretariat on taxation systems, informal economy, and corruption. The Project will involve SEE countries with their legal and economic experts, and it will apply the methodology of the previous Project on the pension system reforms. Forum participants will receive an outline of a conconcept frame for a project proposal on the basis of which they can confirm their participation and give their ideas and proposals.

4. The topic of modernization and reform of trade unions will be prepared for the next Forum meeting, and the professional assistance of ETUC and ITUC on good practices will be asked.

5. Two Forum meetings will be organized in 2012: first, to propose to Albanian unions to host in the first week of April 2012 in Albania, and the other in the second half of October 2012 in either Romania or Bulgaria, so that the colleagues from Rumania and Bulgaria can join the work of Forum.

Report prepared by:

Enisa Salimović, SEE TU Forum Coordinator