Companies' responsability Trade unions strategies Regions Transitional agencies


Restructuring poses a series of burning issues for trade union organisations. Often engaged in a combat in defence of employment (a commitment where Swedish unions opt for the defence of individuals), they are responsible for representing employees (those directly affected by a restructuring operation, those only indirectly affected and those outside the company) whose interests are not spontaneously convergent.


The phenomenon is reinforced by the high growth in the number of employees with fixed term and temporary work contracts (for which Sweden, here again, has developed an original status) and by the development of groups of companies with decision centres increasingly distant from workplaces and the areas where restructuring is being implemented (a region such as Wallonia particularly suffers from this).

The organisation of unions, the number of their members and the cultural and institutional contexts in which they operate differ significantly but several common, sometimes paradoxical, traits are revealed by case studies.
Traits characteristic of national regulation systems are reflected in the directions taken by union action: importance of age measures in Belgium, redundancy payments in the United Kingdom, recourse to the law in France, negotiation in Germany and, in particular, Sweden. However, over and above these dominant traits, Swedish unions also have recourse to judges (Telia Sonera), British unions to opinion (Insurance) and French unions to negotiation (ADDA, Vx group, ASSURANCIA). Moreover, we should underscore the fact that there are strong areas of convergence in action at company level: a search for solutions to avoid or limit redundancies, search for social dialogue culminating in negotiations, intervention to foster the organisation of professional transition and age and bonus measures.
In general, the actual influence of unions in a permanent restructuring context seems weak (Sweden showing a more contrasting situation) and, in most countries, everything seemingly takes place as if reduced to delayed action after the main decisions have already been taken. However, there is practically no innovation that is not provoked or at least strongly supported by union organisations. They nonetheless seldom reap the rewards, to the extent that their role is practically erased when an initiative is successful.
This being said, indicators show that legislation in favour of seeking negotiated solutions and the commitment of unions in constructing the resources and mechanisms to develop employee skills are likely to positively modify their action capability in the event of restructuring.
Finally, the capitalising opportunity at the disposal of trade union organisations – so important for steering restructuring operations – seems to have reached an important stage with the TRACE project.