We demand that governments fully involve the social partners in all efforts to reach recovery and to extend job retention mechanisms. More than ever, unions and employers must engage constructively. We therefore demand that employers take their place at the negotiation table with a problem-solving approach, looking at all options including the reduction of working time.
Countries across Europe introduced short-time working schemes and similar job retention mechanisms at the beginning of the current crisis to prevent massive layoffs due to COVID-19. Such schemes largely resulted from trade union demands. They marked a distinct improvement in handling a major economic crisis, especially in comparison to the financial crisis in 2008-09. At that time, short-time work was only available in few countries and austerity was widely regarded as the best remedy.
Instruments vary slightly across countries (short-time working, temporary or partial unemployment etc.) but crucially, they are instruments that can save jobs, secure wages and keep workers close to companies so that they can restart quickly. IndustriAll European Trade Union therefore considers these schemes essential for recovery.
Six months into the COVID-19 crisis, most of these schemes are now expiring. With the continued presence of the virus, the health crisis and economic crisis are far from being over. IndustriAll Europe therefore calls for the immediate extension of job retention schemes until a fair recovery is reached. Moreover, such mechanisms must be urgently introduced in places where they have not yet been made available. Failure to offer this much needed support everywhere in Europe will increase already existing inequalities between and within Member States.
Under pressure from social partners, some countries like Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal have already extended short-time work. Austria will follow soon. The French government has implemented a long-term short time work scheme, until 2025.
At European level, SURE, the mechanism put in place to support job retention schemes, turned out to be insufficient. Much higher levels of support from the EU are required to bridge gaps in the capacity of Member States to introduce job retention schemes and recover their economies. Inequality will explode in Europe if we persistently fail to bridge these gaps.
Moreover, SURE offers only reimbursement for schemes deployed during the first months of the crisis. However, job retention schemes are needed until complete recovery is achieved. We therefore call on the EU and national policymakers to work within a long-term perspective and put in place adequate funds until recovery is reached. Furthermore, any publicly funded job retention scheme must come with strings attached. Companies receiving support must provide employment guarantees.
Last but certainly not least, constructive social dialogue and collective bargaining must now take centre stage. In that context, unions are making the case again for shorter working time. IG Metall in Germany, for example, asked for a reduction of working time in the form of a 4-day week. In the German steel sector, an agreement was reached allowing working time reduction with wage compensation. The case for shorter working time is gaining traction in Europe. In the UK, unions have set out post Covid-19 plans on shorter working time. In Finland, the Prime Minister called for a reduction of the eight-hour working day, compensated by higher productivity. Concrete measures are yet to be announced.
Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe Deputy Secretary General:
“Six months into the crisis, we are now witnessing the end of the emergency mechanisms initially put in place to save millions of European jobs. But the crisis is not over, and recovery is not here yet. We need further measures until we start to see the effects of the stimulus packages. Otherwise, inequality, precariousness and poverty will explode around us."
"As industriAll Europe, we demand that governments fully involve the social partners in all efforts to reach recovery and to extend job retention mechanisms. More than ever, unions and employers must engage constructively. We therefore demand that employers take their place at the negotiation table with a problem-solving approach, looking at all options including the reduction of working time.”