Venue: Helsingör, LO-skolen (Denmark)

The Education Department of the European Trade Union Institute and the European Worker Participation Competence Centre organised a workshop on ‘A European dimension to the training of employee board-level representatives’ from 17 to 19 March 2010 at LO-skolen, Helsingør, Denmark. The workshop gathered employee board-level representatives in SEs and MNCs, as well as representatives from training institutes connected to trade unions.

Within the framework of the European Company Statute (SE), it has become obvious that the mandate of employee representatives at company board level represents a European cross-border dimension in the sense that such representatives are supposed to take into account not only the interests of the workers from their own countries, but also those of workers in other European countries where the company operates. SEs are, of course, not the only kind of company engaged in cross-border activities, and there are probably several thousand employee representatives participating in decision-making affecting the interests of workers in other countries in multinational companies which have not opted for the SE form. Employee representatives at board level in the country where the company’s headquarters are located often enjoy a relatively strong position. However, more and more of them are finding their rights diminished after the company’s head office is transferred to another country following a merger, a takeover or other restructuring measures. Sustainable social development in a world characterised by such changes will also depend on the ability of employee representatives at board level to understand their role as part of a broader cross-border context.

The state of play with regard to employee board-level representation was introduced by Aline Conchon, ETUI, who explained that ETUI is conducting a survey aimed at identifying where such representatives are present, in what kind of companies, what their responsibilities are and how they understand their mandates.

On the basis of two case studies the participants discussed and compared the practical possibilities provided by the various national legislations and traditions. If management decisions are to be influenced in multinational companies at European and international level, communication and action plans need to be coordinated between trade unions and representatives in works councils, as well as at board level. One of the primary tasks for training institutes in the field of workers' involvement must be to facilitate the development of mutual trust between the representatives from the relevant countries and between the various levels of representation.

The differences between national provisions and cultural approaches with regard to the handling of confidential information were illustrated by presentations made by Julia Cuntz, IG Metall, Germany, Peter Rimford, CO-industri, Denmark, Eva Karnehed, PTK, and Hans Erik Andersson, Runö, Sweden.

According to their country of birth, the education they receive, the social groups they belong to, their personality and many other elements, people judge the world around them in terms of extremely diverse values that determine their behaviour, wittingly or unwittingly. This applies not only to private life, but also to professional life, often with a greater impact. The differences in terms of how we judge the behaviour of our colleagues within bodies such as European works councils or supervisory boards were illustrated on the basis of another case study in which the participants were asked to rank the actions of several characters in a story about cross-border communication among employee representatives.

In the subsequent plenary debate, a number of issues related to training and expertise were identified:

  • Board-level representatives and representatives at other levels need to find common ways of handling confidential information.

  • Board-level representatives in SEs and MNCs from countries other than the one in which company headquarters are located need special training and support with regard to how they should proceed, including the new ‘cultural’ framework in which they now have to function.

  • Those representatives also need support in building common strategies to influence decision-making.

  • Language skills must be developed in order to facilitate cross-border cooperation.

  • Target group training events to analyse corporate strategies and company policies, as well as how they are influenced in accordance with country of origin would probably also be useful.

  • Inter-cultural training activities and materials on specific topics, such as confidentiality and how to understand and act in a different representative context, should be made available.

The final part of the workshop was devoted to how a European project on developing training modules and materials for employee board-level representatives in SEs and MNCs could be organised. Nathalie Glück from the Social Development Agency introduced the requirements and specificities of EU budget line and initiated a discussion on a possible joint application.