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Workshop "Further training and other supportive measures for workers’ representatives in SE boardrooms"

Venue: Runö Kursgard, Akersberga/Sweden

Identifying the profile and the specific training and support needs of employee board-level representatives in MNCs and SEs was one of the objectives of a workshop organised by ETUI at the Runö Centre in Sweden. Representatives from national trade unions, trade union training centres and trade union-related foundations and institutes exchanged information about their practices and debated how resources, methods and materials could be made available and what kind of cooperation could be established within the framework of the EWPCC.

Employee board-level representatives in MNCs and SEs can help to influence strategic decisions and proactively contribute to the management of change. In the context of the European Company Statute (SE) it is becoming more and more obvious that the mandate of employee board-level representatives is not confined to the workforce of their home country. They are supposed to take into account the interests of workers throughout Europe.

Identifying the profile and the specific training and support needs of those representatives was one of the objectives of a workshop organised by ETUI at the Runö Centre in Sweden. Representatives from national trade unions, trade union training centres and trade union-related foundations and institutes exchanged information about their practices and debated how resources, methods and materials could be made available and what kind of cooperation could be established within the framework of the European Worker Participation Competence Centre (EWPCC). The ETUC resolution on how the EWPCC will be financed and its forthcoming tasks was presented by Norbert Kluge and Jean-Claude Le Douaron.

The participants agreed that employee board-level representation within the framework of the SE constitutes a new qualitative step for representatives from countries where this kind of representation was hitherto unknown. But employee board-level representatives from countries in which company headquarters are located who have experience of this level of representation also need to be aware of the new scope of their mandates. They face new challenges when it comes to communicating with the workforce and representative bodies of other countries and must also overcome language and cross-cultural communication problems. Traditions also differ on how to deal with confidential information, and representatives from the ‘periphery’ have to be made aware of the prevailing company law, confidentiality provisions and other regulations of the country in which company headquarters are located. Training and expertise at national and European level for these representatives should promote the development of a common vision, agenda and work programme among employee board-level representatives in a cross-border perspective.

Several activities related to employee board-level representation have already been organised by ETUI:

  • A first workshop on the European dimension of the training of employee board-level representatives took place in Elewijt, Belgium, in May 2007.
  • A seminar entitled ‘Making companies socially responsible and sustainable – The role of workers’ board-level representatives’, brought together employee board-level representatives in Brussels in February 2008.

The participants also discussed what kind of resources could be developed with regard to the target group they identified:

  • Experts or coordinators assisting SNBs in SE negotiations would need a handbook on procedures, with contact lists, perhaps capitalising on EWC experiences.

Employee board-level representatives in SEs, as well as in other European MNCs, need:

  • to be informed about possible insurance coverage in cases of liability;
  • in many cases to improve their language skills in order to communicate and exchange views and information with the workforce they are supposed to represent;
  • to be informed about company law and regulations in the country in which the SE has its headquarters;
  • to be trained to understand the basics of financial and economic information;
  • to be trained in ‘global awareness’: for example, getting the non-German employee board-level representatives in a German-based SE to understand the Germans and, at the same time, getting the German employee board-level representatives in the same SE to think and act in a ‘European’ way;
  • cross-cultural trust- and team-building training activities, integrated in national training programmes.

Furthermore, a network allowing exchanges of training methods and contents should be set up, and MNC management strategies should be surveyed and compared in training activities at European and national level.

At cross-sectoral level, the following would prove beneficial:

  • Exchange of experiences among workers’ representatives on SE boards with an international composition (scheduled for 21–22 September 2009 in Vienna).
  • Seminar on the ‘European sustainable company and good corporate governance: Exercising the “European mandate” in supervising transnational companies’ – which are long-term objectives of particular importance and relevance for workers and their trade unions (pilot seminar, possibly to be organised in connection with the UN Copenhagen conference on climate change in December 2009).
  • Topical seminar on European corporate law, including exchanges with EU policymakers (for example, what is the European view with regard to non-executive and ‘independent’ directors?). (follow-up in 2010).
  • Seminar on globally accepted accounting standards and what they mean for workers’ interest representation.
  • Seminar on communications and possibilities of cooperation with other levels and bodies of interest representation; importance of confidentiality with regard to information provided in boardrooms. Also, an ‘EU mandate’ – potentially the subject of conflicting interests because nomination is the responsibility of national bodies.

Conclusion

Generally, it became clear from the debate that the EWPCC would prove very useful, providing means for flexible action, also in the short term (such as bringing people together to prepare joint applications for additional funds from the European Commission; providing individual advice which has importance beyond the individual case).

Furthermore, it was proposed to compile a schedule of relevant activities, both ongoing and in the pipeline, of trade union organisations at both national and EU level (such as EIFs), which are also open to non-affiliates.

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