On the 10th and 11th May 2022, EUROMIL, EPSU and EuroCOP held the fifth joint and final regional meeting as part of the project on strengthening and protecting trade union rights in the public sector which has European Commission funding.The fifth regional meeting followed a similar structure as the previous meetings, however focused its attention on the situation in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, and Germany, as well as to a lesser extent, the UK.

As in the previous meetings, the presentations featured sparked insightful discussion amongst participants and enabled them to share experiences with each other, despite their different backgrounds.

The first session of the two day meeting opened with an overview of the limitations on officials in the relevant countries from Alexander De Becker of Ghent University. Mr De Becker’s presentation highlighted that in this particular group of countries, Ireland is an outlier in its limitations for members of the armed forces to form and join trade unions as the other countries do not have prohibitions in this respect. Importantly though, Mr De Becker highlighted that the systems in place for collective bargaining generally differed across the countries depending on their context, and depending on whether the workers fell into the category of ‘civil servant,’ ‘armed forces,’ or ‘police.’

Following on from this presentation, those in attendance had the opportunity to share their experiences of these limitations and prohibitions on the ground. Participants highlighted that the European Council have proposed to amend the definition of collective bargaining so as to include a phrase that negotiations should end in a collective agreement.

The first day’s session was rounded off with a presentation from EPSU’s Nadja Salson on EU sectoral social dialogue and whether it can both protect trade union rights as well as achieve new ones. Ms Salson’s presentation pointed out the ‘hollowing out’ of social dialogue since 2012, including that a major set back has been the very low number of social partner agreements. Attention was also given to EPSU’s case against the European Commission, the judgement of which unfortunately left much legal uncertainty in its wake and ultimately gives the Commission too much power.

Next steps were identified by Ms Salson to include a return to the drawing board if the Commission continues to ignore demands and a need to shift the reluctance of employers to support legally binding agreements. Most important for EUROMIL members also is the intention to increase representation in EU sectoral social dialogue committees and to include police and armed forces.

The second day’s session began with another presentation from Ms Salson but on the treatment of public service workers in European social directives with specific reference to the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive in the context of the country group.

As with previous meetings, Ms Salson’s presentation provided a recap and overview of the directive and focused on the potential for exclusions of certain sector of workers from its remit. Most importantly, Ms Salson outlined practical steps that can be taken by participants in their countries including, to make sure government involves unions in transposition of the directive; engage with them to stop the use of exemptions; and highlight any exemptions must be as limited as possible and based on clear, transparent and objective grounds. Ms Salson also identified the expert group report that is available in English which documents useful arguments that can assist in preventing or at least limiting the scope of any potential exemptions.

Following Ms Salson’s presentation, Carlos Carrion-Crespo of the International Labour Organisation gave a presentation on labour rights in the public services and ILO Convention 151. Mr Carrion-Crespo gave a broad overview of the situation on a global level regarding the ratification and implementation of Convention 151 and focused attention on the specific situation for police officers. Importantly, Convention 151 was highlighted as being a bit of an untapped resource for members of all three affiliates

The project will conclude with an in person conference in Skopje, North Macedonia on the 22nd and 23rd September  2022. The arrangements for this conference will be provided  to Member Organisations  in the coming weeks.

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