Prepared by Roman Zaytsev, EAKL

2018-09-08/10 Baltic Trade Union Youth Forum was held in Latvia, Cesis. The event had young trade union activists from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania discussing the following topics:

1) Collective bargaining on sectoral level. Example of Latvia.

2) Vocational health and safety.

3) Recruiting young Trade Unionists – BOA experience.

4) Future of work and platform economy.

5) Youth at the 100 year anniversary of Baltic States, resolution for the future.

 

In this report is presented a brief summary of discussions on each of the topics.

1) Collective bargaining on sectoral level. Example of Latvia.

In Latvia three levels of CBAs exist :

  1. 1. Company.
  2. 2. Multiple companies in the same sector.
  3. 3. Sectoral level. >50% of employees or turnover.

When company level CBA negotiations are being held, salaries are rarely discussed. First level agreements typically deal with such topics as “social package” and other non-material benefits. The last two levels are reserved exclusively for LBAS (Latvian Trade Union Confederation) affiliates and deal with a broader spectrum of questions.

Now onto some details of the sectoral agreement project between Latvian building sector trade union and Partnership of Latvian Construction Entrepreneurs.

  1. 1. NACE – system of codes is used to identify companies that fall under this agreement.
  2. 2. Employers’ associations who take part in negotiations represent a major share of the capital in this sector of industry, despite representing a minor part of all the organizations operating in the sector in terms of quantity.
  3. 3. In the beginning of negotiations, 5 different minimum wages based on the qualification were proposed for the workers of this sector. In the final agreement there will be only one minimum wage  (780 EUR).
  4. 4. Each person performing work in this sector, regardless of the main field of his company’s operation, is entitled to the salary stated in the sectoral agreement. For example, a person employed by a telecom company, performing work that can be defined as construction, is to be paid salary stated in the sectoral agreement for the hours he spends performing it.
  5. 5. The proposed agreement brings employers certain benefits:
  1. 50% discount on the membership in the national register *1
  2. +0.25 points to the company’s rating  *2
  3. Cumulative working time.
  4. Overtime payment 50% less.

 

It is suggested to trade the points 3 and 4 for a higher salary in the whole sector. Taking into account that they affect roughly 3% of the employed in the sector it is considered to be an acceptable compromise.

  1. 6. The administrative burden is likely to increase, but it is considered to be an acceptable trade-off for the up-mentioned benefits.

* 1. In Latvia there exists a registry of companies allowed to take government orders.

* 2. Each company in this registry is assigned a rating. The higher the quality of the specialists employed, the better the reputation, the higher the rating.

 

The theoretical part was followed by a group work. The participants were divided into two groups (employer’s representatives and trade unions) and were charged with the task of reaching a compromise on the working hours and the per hour rate. The text of this task will be included along with the report.

Demands of the unions :

  1. Not more than 3 hours of stand-by time.
  2. The night work time starts at 22:00 and ends at 06:00.
  3. The rate that applies to the night hours is 50% more.

Suggestions from the employers’ side:

  1. Flat rate for all the working hours (including the night work and stand-by periods).
  2. Higher per-hour rate.

 

2) Occupational health and safety.

The session was chaired by I.Vanadziņš, director of Institute for Occupational Safety (OHS) and Environmental Health.

* Methods of work in the Baltic countries are similar but despite the expectations, figures on occupational diseases greatly vary from country to country. The reason for it is difference in methods used to identify and register these health issues.

* Low productivity impairs OHS. The more resources and time are required to manage the work process, the less attention is paid to OHS, because the main concern of employer is to stay afloat.

* Employers and employees indicate different stress factors when it comes to the work environment.

* Unions should work in cooperation with experts in the field of OHS, when identifying risks at work. During negotiations the expert opinion is to be used as a reference point.

 

3) Recruiting young Trade Unionists – BOA experience.

The session was chaired by Mārtiņš Dunskis. He briefly introduced the audience to the basics of BOA work. This was followed by a discussion. Participants shared their experiences and concerns.

* BOA in its current form might not be the most suitable format for our region due to the cultural and historical reasons. Besides, the market structure differs from the one in Scandinavian countries, where this organising system is originally from.

* The amount of bureaucracy and overtly formal approach to evaluating the results can obscure the more subtle processes going on in the group of people being organised. Attempts to quantify all the achievements can lead to a one-dimensional understanding of the situation.

* Estonian Railway Union focuses on empowering the shop stewards instead of having organiser do the main work with the members. Instead organiser teaches shop stewards how to build and maintain union structures in the companies. The leaders of the union believe that such an approach is more sustainable in the long term perspective, due to the fact that the shop steward knows his workplace better than anyone else, is a part of it is familiar with all the tendencies in the collective. Organiser, on the other hand, is an “outsider” and is a part of a project and projects typically run only for a certain period of time.

* Estonian Independent Seamen’s Union was involved in BOA project and employed an organiser to work with the ports. He worked in close cooperation with the shop stewards and helped them coordinate the organising process. The main work was still performed by shop stewards. The results were mixed, but helped the union to restructure and improve its work .

The system used on board the ships is slightly different. A shop steward relies on a group of so-called supporters, who report to him all the necessary information and help to spread the union related news.

 

4) Future of work and platform economy.

The session was chaired by Roman Zaytsev, who was assisted by Mārtiņš Svirskis. Participants were asked to name their associations with the topic of the session. Here is refined list of generated ideas:

* Unsustainable employment (bogus self-employment, short term contracts, zero-hour contracts)

* Freelancers

* Seasonal workers

* Work force rental agencies

* Additional income

 

The focus of discussion shifted to digitalization, platform economy and unsustainable employment.  The audience was divided into three groups. Each group received a platform to analyse : Wolt, Upwork and Amazon Mechanical Turk. Results of the discussion are below.

Platform economy at a first glance does not pose any threat to the existing forms of employment and the unions. When explored in-depth a number or problems become evident:

* Lack of legal methods to regulate this sphere. Nowadays we observe lack of political will to regulate this kind of employment.

* Lack of a workplace as such. A lot of people work remotely from their homes using their own computers and internet.

* Lack of employer. In most cases platforms present themselves as providers of service or an intermediary between customers and those who offer their expertise. In case with platforms like Uber and Taxify, drivers purchase the right to use special versions of their applications to operate and are treated as self-employed.

* No guaranteed income. In case with platforms like Upwork and Amazon Mechanical Turk, it is impossible for the freelancer to know if he gets enough orders to maintain a certain level of income. Frequently customers refuse to pay for the order, citing one reason or another.

* Dumping / Race to the bottom. A user who offers to complete a task at the lowest price usually “wins” the order, thus forcing others to reduce their prices. This leads to the global decrease of prices of services, thus reducing the income of those who offer these services.

 

In the current situation organising such workers into the unions is extremely problematic because: they are hard to reach, they have neither workplace nor an employer to negotiate with. Conventional union strategies fall short of handling such cases.

In essence people are still doing the same work as they did in the past : drive cars, design computer software, write articles, etc. Advancements in digital technologies created new ways to exploit workers.

Forum participants proposed to create a set of recommendations for taxi drivers who work using platforms.

 

5) Youth at the 100 year anniversary of Baltic States, resolution for the future.

The forum decided to write down main points that would later become a solid body of text.

* Assess the past and indicate the problems.

* Address the decreasing membership.

* Freelancers.

* 100 years of organising people.

* Necessity to change the methods of work.

* Importance of sectoral agreements.

* Bring back the youth into our countries.

* Affordable housing.

* Favourable taxation.

* Decent living wage.

* Decent work.

* Promote vocational education.

* Vocational education should be managed together with the unions.

 

Participants agreed to take a total of 100 selfies in the work environment (all countries together) that would later be turned into a collage.