In the ongoing ‘European Year of Skills’, trade unions call for a right to training for workers and full union involvement to make sure that this right is implemented on the ground in all companies in Europe. 

We are at a turning point. There is a major urgency to reskill, upskill and train workers to deliver the twin green and digital transition that is rapidly transforming jobs and occupations. The ‘European Year of Skills’ comes at the right moment, but the discussions at our event confirmed that much more is needed to overcome the massive training and skills needs of the transforming industry.

The Commission’s only concrete policy proposal put forward so far is the Skills and Talent Package (including the new legislation) which presents an easy-fix solution pushed by employers: attracting migrant workers to Europe, without ensuring their equal treatment on the labour market.
We need long-term solutions based on industrial policy, active labour market policies, education and training, and collective bargaining.
The European labour market has been affected by skills shortages in the past decades, with trade unions’ calls for solutions often falling on policymakers’ deaf ears. 

At the workshop, research by CEDEFOP confirmed that there are no new developments. Companies on average only train 40% of their workers. We are far from the 60% target of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) Action Plan of 60% of all adults participating in training every year by 2030. Yet, the European Commission has still not made any concrete proposals to improve working conditions and ensure workers’ access to training to bridge the skills gap.

Trade union representative from Hungary, Croatia and Poland reported on the problems of attracting migrant workers without ensuring equal treatment, access to trade union representation or protection for them. In Hungary, the government and employers are counting on low added-value jobs in the battery sector for third-country nationals who do not have the right to be collectively represented by trade unions. In Croatia the panic over demographic change, mainly caused by massive emigration to Western Europe, is not addressed with any proposals to improve the quality and attractiveness of jobs; it is instead met with employers’ preferred cost-cutting solution of using migrant workers with limited rights. In Poland, some companies already employ up to 50% of their workforce through agencies to reduce their regular employment costs by opting for social dumping. Employers are pushing for migrant workers who can only be employed through agencies, reinforcing hereby a race to the bottom.

However, there are also positive developments that need to be replicated in more countries. The workshop’s exchange of best practices revealed methods and tools to foresee and navigate the twin transitions with training for workers at the centre.

Collective bargaining remains one of the key trade union instruments to anticipate and manage the twin transition, especially by ensuring training rights for workers. Affiliates presented examples of best practices of collectively agreed solutions. 

In Germany, IG Metall’s ‘Future Agreements’, agreed at sectoral level, establish a framework for securing employment through a joint social partners’ analysis that ensures anticipation of jobs and skills needed in the rapidly transforming industry.

In Sweden, the landmark agreements turned into law provide financial support for training schemes for short- and long-term skills development, for workers either in employment or between jobs.

In Italy, through the new Lamborghini collective agreement, trade unions and employers are committed to reducing working hours and ensuring that employers take responsibility for continuous, lifelong training of workers. 

These examples show the importance of social dialogue and collective bargaining and play a crucial role in anticipating the changes of the twin transitions by pushing companies to fund workers’ training programmes and ensure a fair transition for all.

“Europe needs a more ambitious approach. We need a change of mindset about training and skills”, says Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe’s Deputy General Secretary.

During the workshop, we managed to identify the building blocks of a successful training and skilling strategy to make training a reality in Europe’s rapidly transforming industry:

  • an individual ‘right to training’ for workers that is effectively implemented at the workplace through trade union involvement
  • access to high quality and cost-free training for workers during working hours, that results in the recognition of the acquired qualification
  • massive public and private investments in training; employers have a special responsibility to invest in their workers’ training
  • involvement of trade unions in all skills and training initiatives

“It has also become clear that trade unions need to make training a priority, especially in their collective bargaining rounds at all levels. Ensuring workers’ right and access to training is essential for securing employability in the twin transition and for negotiating quality jobs with high pay based on workers’ recognised competences. The change of mindset has started, but now we need to make it happen collectively at all levels”, concluded Isabelle Barthès.

*The workshop is part of an EU-funded project.

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