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Participants and challenges

Unlike the metalworking industry, the chemical sector does not really have a “national” tradition of sectoral social dialogue. The diversity of companies in the sector - petrochemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, paints, etc. - tends in fact to mean that social dialogue focuses on the company level rather than that of the sector as a whole.

 

 

 

European-level social dialogue came about belatedly, mainly owing to the fact that the European employers' industrial organisations and CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council, (deliberately) refrained from adopting a mandate to discuss social issues with the trade union organisation EMCEF. The union side, for its part, became aware of European social challenges at a very early stage and began calling for the establishment of European social dialogue in the late 1980s. But it took a long time to persuade the employers to engage in negotiations.

 

Having learnt its lessons from an initial dialogue with the PVC industry (a social dialogue forum was set up in 2000), EMCEF devised a strategy for gradually guiding the employers' organisations towards social dialogue. Under pressure from various factors, CEFIC decided in January 2002 to set up the European Chemical Employers Group (ECEG), which can be regarded as the "social arm" of CEFIC. It is responsible for social matters and for relations with the sector’s trade unions.

 

The first joint declaration between EMCEF and the ECEG was concluded in December of that same year. Given that European Commission initiatives concerning the chemical industry have a social impact, these bodies became keen to expand their lobbying activities. That is what happened in 2003, when some major European industrial initiatives were unveiled. The REACH legislative proposal in particular, which has a social dimension, made the employers realise how useful it could be to embark on sectoral social dialogue, geared primarily towards lobbying. In addition to REACH, health and safety matters already featured on the agenda, for example through the Responsible Care programme. This was a voluntary initiative, coordinated by CEFIC, aimed at improving the industry's performance in the fields of safety at work and environmental safety, thereby protecting employees, nearby homes and businesses, consumers and the environment. It was the subject of a memorandum of understanding between the social partners in February 2003.

 

The Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for the chemical industry was at last formally established in 2004. Seven new joint texts have been adopted since then, relating chiefly to issues such as social dialogue, health and safety, training and skills and, more recently, the EU Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme (since the chemical industry is very energy-intensive), as well as restructuring (in the light of the economic crisis that erupted in 2008).

 

Some trade union organisations affiliated to EMCEF have been attempting since 2006 to add to this agenda the topics of occupational diseases in the sector (and other sectors downstream of the chemical industry, such as hairdressing and beauty care) and accidents at work. The SSDC work programme for the period 2007-2008 emphasised three main areas: industrial policy, competitiveness and jobs; education, training and lifelong learning; health and safety (the Responsible Care programme).

 

It should also be pointed out that EMCEF has set up its own collective bargaining committee in order to have a means of comparing the provisions of national collective agreements. Nevertheless, it would seem that the establishment of this committee has not so far been a key factor in the development of social dialogue in the sector.

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD