Troika Watch 3rd Workshop in Dublin – Ireland
UNI Europa affiliates from Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain met on 11 November 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. The meeting was the third UNI Europa Workshop on the Crisis, Austerity and its Consequences. It allowed affiliates to exchange experiences on both measures taken at national levels in the European austerity climate and on resulting trade union strategies to tackle these.
The Workshop took stock of the developments in industrial relations following the exit from the Troika programmes by Ireland and Portugal. It provided colleagues from Cyprus, Greece, and Spain the possibility to present the dramatic structural changes that took place in the respective countries through the imposed austerity measures by the Troika of the EU, ECB, and IMF as well as changes demanded by countries that are not undergoing Troika supervision.
In Ireland the main highlighted challenges were the imposed increases in indirect taxation and the differentiated government strategies vis-à-vis public and private sector workers. Austerity in Ireland has not worked and has cost jobs. The Irish labour market has witnessed an intense precarisation in its labour market. Austerity alone was a mistake in solving Ireland’s economic and financial crisis. Additional information on the situation in Ireland can be found in the annexed presentations.
UNI Europa affiliates from Spain explained that Collective Bargaining in Spain has been under attack with reductions (and even suspensions) in the applicability and extension provisions of Collective Labour Agreements. Collective dismissals have been facilitated and the Spanish economy lost significant numbers of jobs following an overhauling Labour Law reform. Wages on average have been slashed and the incidence of precarious employment forms have increased. Spain has witnessed significant cuts in social spending as well as in the health and education budgets. Unemployment has increased significantly and the unemployment benefits have been cut. There are important problems of social exclusion with slashed entitlements to social assistance benefits. Spanish colleagues argued that there needs to be a shift in focus to implement a pan-European Investment Plan to assist ailing economies. Additional information on the situation in Spain can be found in the annexed presentations.
Oliver Roethig, UNI Europa Regional Secretary said: “We need to fight for decent wages. The competition model currently in place only leads to a further polarisation of society between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’.
The colleagues from Portugal exposed the difficult situation faced by Portuguese workers. After signing off the bailout, Portugal is worse-off. Unemployment reached its highest point ever. Public debt increased significantly. Austerity was never the right solution. The austerity packages proved inefficient. Trade unions requested that the imposed measures were accompanied by policies of growth and active job creation. Austerity measures imposed through governmental action reduced disposable household incomes and led to huge tax burdens. Portugal witnessed a significant wave of emigration where it is principally the young and qualified people that leave the country. Portugal witnesses major decreases in social protection budget with increased incidence of poverty. Tax increases led to significant drops in disposable incomes. UNI Europa affiliates argued that within the Euro-zone as it is no longer possible to devalue currencies, the Troika policy is to devalue labour costs. Before the Troika, collective bargaining in Portugal was protected. Troika measures resulted in significant reductions in validity and protection offered through Collective Labour Agreements.
UNI Europa affiliates from Greece highlighted the dramatic increase in unemployment ever since the coming of the Troika to Greece. The Troika’s strategy of internal devaluation led to the dramatic increase undeclared and unsecured employment. Precarious forms of work are prevalent and represent almost 40% of all employment contracts. Statutory minimum wages were cut by 25% and by 35% for young entrants in the labour market. The national collective labour agreement was largely undermined and sectoral collective agreements are being cancelled with significant reductions in their coverage, applicability, and validity after expiration. The Troika’s end-goal is the dismantlement of social dialogue at national level and the individualisation of collective agreements. Trade unions are undermined whereas bad employers are rewarded for their decision to not enter in collective agreements’ negotiations. Massive dismissals are facilitated. As an example, currently in Greece there are 20 valid sector Collective Agreements when in 2009 there were over 100 valid ones.
In Greece, all economic sectors have witnessed a drastic deterioration in labour, trade union rights, and Collective Labour Agreements. Social dumping has become common practice. The neoliberal changes of the imposed Memoranda have placed Greece at the lowest levels possible in terms of investment attraction combined with very high levels of taxation. The main problem of tax evasion remains unaddressed and unduly burdens the weaker parts of society (salaried workers and pensioners). The Troika currently demands further flexibility in the labour market, the dismantling of Employment Protection Legislation, the full liberalisation of massive dismissals, limits to the right to strike, and even an overhaul of Trade Union financing legislation. Trade Unions are seen as barriers and not as fundamental partners in democratic societies. Greek UNI Europa affiliates demanded the formulation of a European response/strategy to stop the imposition of austerity measures that lead to the dismantlement of industrial relations and sound social dialogue practices. Despite attempts to destroy social dialogue, UNI Europa affiliates argued that Social Dialogue is the only tool to attain gains in productivity and social progress. The strengthening of social dialogue capacity is necessary to regain growth. Trade unions need to form a common front at European level against the attacks aimed at weakening the role of trade unions in collective bargaining.
UNI Europa affiliates from Cyprus argued for additional actions to define a common trade union strategy to exit the crisis. The participants exposed the unethical game engaged by the Troika in Cyprus with the recapitalisation of main banks without demanding their necessary restructuring. Foreign investors come to Cyprus looking for rapid wins and fast profits. The trade unions raise awareness around the crucial problem of tax evasion. Cyprus workers witnessed significant drops in wages and disposable incomes. There has been a drastic increase in unemployment levels and large cuts in social benefits. Additional information on the situation in Cyprus can be found in the annexed presentation.
Overall participants agreed on the need to pursue our fight against the imposed austerity policies that have so far failed to restore growth prospects and have left the crisis countries in dire situations in terms of employment levels, working conditions, social dialogue validity and alternatives for social progress. The participants reiterated their call for the devise and rapid implementation of a European Investment Plan and active solidarity to change course away from austerity.
You can access additional material on the Troika measures and the effects of austerity policy in Europe on the following page: https://www.facebook.com/TROIKAWATCH