In a well-attended committee room of the European Parliament, AK, ÖGB, ETUC and DGB welcomed trade union representatives and members of the EU Parliament to a panel discussion. The subject matter of the event was the Company Law Package of the European Commission. The debate in particular focused on the impending threat the draft legislation might pose possible to workers’ participation.
Peter Scherrer, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, opened the debate by making the case against “Regime Shopping”, which was made significantly easier by the ECJ’s “Polbud” ruling. In the framework of the negotiations on the new Company Law Package, ETUC would insist on introducing a real seat principle: the company seat had to be registered where commercial activities took place. ETUC estimates that almost 500,000 letterbox companies existed. It would therefore be of utmost importance to create minimum standards for workers’ participation also at the European level. Against this backdrop, Scherrer also criticised the Austrian EU Presidency: This week, at the Tripartite Social Summit, Beate Hartinger-Klein, Austrian Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection, had presented the consequences of digitalisation in rosy colours. However, from ETUC’s point of view, the online registration of companies also required clear guarantees, in particular for employees.
MEP Evelyn Regner (S&D), rapporteur for the Company Law Package in the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs, commented that she had put the issues concerning workers’ participation and workers’ information and consultation rights at the top of her agenda. Making cross-border activities by companies easier had to be accompanied by implementing protection rights for employees. In particular in respect of the influx of “independent” experts in charge of review procedures of company relocations, provided for by the Commission or the division of companies, one had to integrate labour representatives in the process. This was not just simply a protectionist demand of Austrian and German trade unions, but would be supported by many parties and stakeholders, from different sides of the political spectrum. According to Regner, intensive work was going on in respect of the compromise amendments and the dossier should be voted on in the next Legal Affairs Committee meeting. Ending her comment, Regner also asked the Council to to put additional effort to finalise the dossier before the end of this legislative period.
Michael Vassiliadis, President of IndustriALL, emphasised that the issue was not about hampering companies, but one should not sacrifice workers’ rights to give businesses more flexibility. Especially recent tax-related scandals had brought home the necessity of democratic, social and personal rights. One also needed to recognise that the ECJ’s jurisprudence was not always consistent: for example, in the TUI case, the attempt to bring down workers’ participation rights failed before the ECJ.
The President of the Austrian Construction and Wood Workers Union Josef Muchitsch regarded the online establishment of companies as a destabilisation factor for the European Single Market and a door opener for unfair working conditions. The question with regard to mergers and divisions was of course in all cases whether these were taking place to the advantage of employees or employers; according to Muchitsch, it was mainly the latter.