EWCs and restructuring

When a company undertakes a transnational restructuring project, it is essential for employees and their representatives to have direct access to the transnational management of the company. Talking to the national management at the local or national level is not enough to be able to really influence the company’s decision or defend the workers’ interests. A European Works Council (EWC) can serve that purpose. It brings together employee representatives from different European countries and the transnational management. It enables the workers to be informed about the transnational strategy of the company and consulted about transnational restructuring plans, and can, ultimately, enable a move towards a coordinated European employee response. European Works Councils, however, are not present in all companies facing transnational restructuring. Some of those companies might not meet the thresholds for the establishment of an EWC (1,000 employees in total, of which 150 are employed in at least two Member States). But even if they meet these thresholds, the establishment of an EWC is, as a rule, the outcome of lengthy negotiations initiated by an employee or the employer. Using data from the European Restructuring Monitor, maintained by Eurofound (Hurley et al. 2013), and the ETUI European Works Councils Database (ewcdb.eu), Figure 4.10 displays the number of national and European transnational restructuring cases in the last three years, and whether or not the companies involved in these cases had an EWC in place. The figures should be interpreted with some caution as the data on company restructuring has some drawbacks (see: De Spiegelaere 2017). The figures show that in the last three years, the impact of most restructuring cases was confined to the local or national level, i.e. only affecting sites within a single country. However, about 7% of all restructuring cases had a European scope. In these cases, sites in more than one (European) country were involved. Here, an EWC is essential in order for a genuine process of transnational information and consultation of the employees to take place. However, in about one third of all European transnational restructuring cases, there was no EWC established in the company concerned. The second figure looks at the jobs declared to be at stake in these national and European transnational restructuring cases. As companies involved in transnational restructuring tend to be larger, they represent a larger share of the ‘jobs at stake’ in restructuring. About one fourth of all jobs at stake in the last three years (as registered by the European Restructuring Monitor) were related to transnational restructuring measures. 8% of all jobs at stake were located in companies which did not have an EWC, accounting for about one third of all jobs at stake in European transnational restructuring projects. Remarkably, all companies working under the societas europaea (SE: European Company) statute which were involved in transnational restructuring did have an SE- Works Council installed. One of the main differences between an EWC and an SE- Works Council is that for the latter, negotiations about workers’ involvement are obligatory for the establishment of the SE. Evidently, policy could quite easily rectify the divide between those with transnational representation and those without by adding a similar obligation to the EWC policy framework. The impending evaluation of the EWC Recast regulation (see Figure 4.12) could provide an excellent opportunity to close this gap.

Source: ETUI and ETUC (2017) Benchmarking Working Europe