© 2004
Interview with Simon Cox, EWC coordinator of EFFAT
EFFAT is the European Federation of Trade Unions in the Food, Agriculture and Tourism sectors and allied branches

FotoFotoQuestion: How does EFFAT organise the coordination of European works councils?

Cox: Today we have 94 European works councils in our sectors out of 210 transnational companies covered by the EWC directive. Most often EFFAT delegates the role of coordination to an officer in one of our affiliated unions that is active in the company. It is important to optimize all the resources available to EFFAT and I need to avoid having a lopsided focus where my job requires an overview of the whole picture. We need a good relationship with the coordinators and for them to have a clearly defined concept of their role. The idea is that my job should be more focused on supporting and coordinating the coordinators.

Question: How will you achieve it?

Cox: Some councils are doing very well, others have problems. I have to identify these and make them my priority. We have been setting up meetings with our members in key countries to see how we can better support them in this role. A big step for me will be my first seminar for coordinators which will take place in October 2006. Among other things, we will look at how the coordinators are doing their job and how that fits in with EFFAT’s existing guidelines and procedures.

Question: What about new EWC agreements?

Cox: We will be pursuing the creation of new councils but only where our members are asking us to do so. I am dubious about the argument which says that we must push for the creation of an EWC in every company that is covered by the directive, just to improve the numbers. In some cases, such as where unions are not present in the company, it wouldn't make sense for us to use our limited resources to set up and coordinate EWCs. I want to prioritise quality over quantity.

Question: What are the recent problematic issues you are dealing with?

Cox: The big issues for me generally involve restructuring. Unilever is still such a big issue with their announced sell-off of the frozen foods division. We have also had restructuring in InBev and Coca Cola Enterprises. However, in all these cases we have developed common action, promoting international solidarity and in giving strength to our affiliates. For example, in the case of InBev our European action day proved our mobilisation capacity and attracted high level of media coverage. Coordinating trade union responses to restructuring is a big challenge but we can already learn something here from the experiences of other sectors.

Question: What do you mean?

Cox: For instance, we have learned a lot from the General Motors case and the strategy adopted by the actors involved. It is particularly interesting to see how they dealt with key issues such as how to balance the roles of trade unions, workers representatives and EWC members. You can already see some of these lessons taken on board in EFFATs restructuring policy.

Question: How do you integrate EWC members from new Member States?

Cox: We have done a lot to ensure that where EFFAT unions from the new Member States are present in the company they are supported in getting their members integrated into an existing EWC. There is certainly no question of tolerating the exclusion of new countries in such circumstances. We have also done work with our members in candidate countries to try to get their people on to European works councils, and indeed some already are. But there is a higher proportion of non-union plants in some of these countries. In such cases, unionists sitting on an EWC can have fears about bringing in "management stooges", rather than genuine EWC members. These situations can be rather delicate. Our priority must be to have strong, well functioning councils whose members are also members of trade unions.

Simon Cox has been responsible at EFFAT for the coordination of European works councils and transnational companies since February 2006. He worked as a reprographics/photocopier operator before reading a history degree as a mature student at London University. The 35 year old later worked at the Employment Relations Directorate of the UK Government’s Department of Trade & Industry, before doing a MA in European Industrial Relations at Warwick. In 2001, he started working in Brussels for the ETUI and ETUC (on the ‘Infopoint’ project) and was later the Research Manager of the SDA.

The interview was conducted by Kathleen Kollewe on July 4th, 2006 in Brussels.

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