NEW EUROPEAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS (NEIRE) I:
EMPOWERING EUROPEAN WORKER REPRESENTATIVES TO NEGOTIATE FLEXIBLE, FAIR AND INNOVATIVE LABOUR RELATIONS
Relations between employers, trade unions, and employees in Europe are rapidly changing. The new competitive demands for organizations, the globalization process and economic turbulence, new technologies and growing diversity in work forces are leading to new organizational conflicts in which Employee Representatives (ERs) play a central role. Given the context of organizational conflicts, and the tendency towards individualization of labour relations and union decline, the ER’s role is confronted with new challenges in the framework of the European Industrial Relation system.
The overall aim of the New European Industrial Relations (NEIRE) project is to improve the quality of social dialogue as a tool for innovation, first, by empowering European ERs, and second, by exploring European employers’ experiences and expectations on structures, roles, attitudes and competencies of ERs.
A first study was conducted between 2010 and 2012 cofounded by the European Commission Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities DG (Project Ref. VS/2010/0376) the Spanish Ministry of Science (Project Ref. PSI 2008/00503 and PSI 2011/29256) and the partner organizations. Its main focus was to explore how to empower ERs. This study includes quantitative data from more than 2300 ERs and qualitative data from 80 interviews with ERs from 8 European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom (Munduate, Euwema, & Elgoibar, 2012).
OBJECTIVES OF THE ACTION
The aim of this action is to enhance the expertise of ERs. The general objectives are:
Therefore, the action involves an organizational and individual approach. From an organizational perspective, ERs play a critical role in shaping and mediating the relationship between managers and their co-workers. However, in recent years there has been a decrease of ERs´ power within organizations (Edwards, 2008, called it the “representation gap”), mainly due to the increase of an individualistic approach to employment relationships or idiosyncratic deals, “I-deals” is the term coined by Rousseau (2005). This implies that the ER’s role needs to be adapted to the new circumstances, to occupy a powerful position in the decision-making process. With the main goal of making ERs able to achieve an influential role in organizational decisions, we consider the following topics in this study: flexibility in negotiation, employability, corporate social responsibility, partnership relations and trust (with management and co-workers).
From an individual perspective, ERs need to increase their ability to manage conflict (with management and co-workers); identify and negotiate new organizational arrangements, retaining the dignity and well-being for themselves and their co-workers. In order to prevent workers from becoming passive recipients and make them constructively engaged in the structural processes, ERs have to improve their competences and promote union innovation, nurture the attraction and commitment with unions, bolster their influence, and manage personal role conflicts and stress as ERs.
European Union has established its ambition to be an innovative and flexible economy and this requires new methods of collective negotiation at an organizational level. In particular, ERs are expected to negotiate more flexible arrangements which meet the individual needs of workers. This requires new and more complex skills and competences from ERs. Therefore, to implement improvement strategies and empower ERs, a Best Practices Program (BPP) has been designed together with experts in IR and stakeholders in the action: ERs, trade union leaders, management representatives, policy makers and academics
In that sense, this action benefits both the ERs and the organizations, as well as the rest of IR actors in the following ways:
Two publications available in this website present the key findings and recommendations from this action: