Around 100 guests from European institutions and partner organisations attended the traditional New Year's reception of the European offices of the Chamber of Labour and the Austrian Trade Union Confederation in Brussels on 29 January. This year's theme was the protection of democracy and the importance of participation in EU and AK elections.
Thomas Oberreiter, Permanent Representative of Austria to the European Union, emphasised the importance of the Austrian Permanent Representation. "For 30 years, the Austrian Representation has brought together all the key players in one place including ministries, social partners and the Federation of Austrian Industries. This is a unique institution in Brussels." The tradition of the New Year´s receptions of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) is an important part of the cooperation in Brussels with European institutions.
Strengthening social dialogue
Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, spoke about the importance of the social dialogue. Austria is a good example of how this can work, he said. Political changes can only succeed if the social partners are well involved: "We therefore want to strengthen the social partners in Europe again, because major challenges, such as the Green Deal, lie ahead." Big changes would also bring great opportunities for a better life. It is important to increase the involvement of trade unions in processes of change, which would give people confidence: "People should have the feeling that they can help shape Europe, and strong social dialogue can contribute much to this." Schmit addressed the recently launched reform of European Works Councils. This is important in order to strengthen them and ensure that they function better in reality: "Only then employees will have a better chance to assert their rights."
Giving new impetus to social dialogue
Wolfgang Katzian, President of ÖGB and ETUC, emphasised that the involvement of the social partners and the functioning of the social dialogue were essential for the further development of Europe. That was an important element of the EU. "Social dialogue is organised differently in every country, but the essential thing is that it is about negotiating, achieving results and then making these results binding. And it is very important to bring these agreements to life. I hope the social dialogue gets a new impetus, because that will benefit people." Many topics are currently on the agenda, for example supply chains. Katzian: "I also expect a clear Austrian position on this, the federal government must support the Supply Chain Law, we will keep up the pressure." A key objective of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is to ensure that important investments can continue to be made in the EU in future, be it in the areas of climate, transformation or Europe as an industrial location. "This must be excluded from the Maastricht criteria; it is essential for Europe, for the people and the location."
Strengthening democracy at all levels
The event concluded with a talk with AK President Renate Anderl and Evelyn Regner, Vice-President of the European Parliament. It was moderated by Sylvia Wörgetter, Salzburger Nachrichten. Renate Anderl began by emphasising the importance of the elections to the Austrian Chamber of labour (AK elections): "It's about strengthening democracy, not only in the AK elections, but also in the elections to the EU-Parliament or the elections in Austria. Our task is to tell people at all levels that they can have a say. It's about their work, their lives in Austria and Europe - they have the right to have a say."
When asked about the growth of right-wing forces in the EU, Evelyn Regner said that there was also a strong counter-movement: "All over Austria and Germany, many people took to the streets in favour of democracy and important values. That was an important sign for European democracy." On the question of how European policy could be better communicated in the Member States, Regner said: "From an employee perspective, an incredible amount of progress has been made in the EU over the past four years, for example on the minimum wage, wage transparency, protection against gender-based violence and platform work. There are many positive proposals on the table. It is important to communicate to people in Austria that the EU is doing a lot that directly affects them in their everyday lives. Unfortunately, governments often lack the will to implement European projects in the Member States." As an example, Regner cited the EU Child Guarantee, which the Austrian federal government is failing to implement. Renate Anderl also emphasised that it was necessary "to beat the drum at home in Austria to explain that the EU is not somewhere far away, where they only talk about cucumber curvature or whether you are still allowed to say tomatoes and jam. We have to be very specific about what is happening here and that the people in Austria need what we are doing."
Making use of the right to vote
Finally, when asked about her resolutions for 2024, Anderl replied: "Strengthening democracy, based on a good turnout in the AK elections and the EU elections." Regner's most urgent resolution is to get the ongoing Supply Chain Law off the ground: "This is so important for so many people! We also still have major projects to finalise in the area of taxation. And most importantly: to strengthen democracy at all levels with a high level of participation in all elections."
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