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“DEMOCRACY AT WORK” — a renewed European narrative and boost for Employee Involvement?

Author: Attila Kun (Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary and University of Public Service, Ludovika)

On 11 June 2021, the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs published a Draft Report on “democracy at work: a European framework for employees’ participation rights and the revision of the European Works Council Directive” ((2021/2005(INI)). The Draft Report has a very ambitious tone, perceiving “democracy at work” as a building block of a diverse and socially sustainable future and as part of sustainable corporate governance. It states that employees are not mere ‘stakeholders’ of companies, but ‘constituting parties’ alongside shareholders and managers. According to the philosophy of the Report, more democracy at work links the debate on the future of work with the debate on the future of EU and strengthening democracy in Europe.

The document also contains a concrete motion for a European Parliament resolution. Among others, it calls on the Commission and the Member States to establish the necessary conditions and requirements to ensure that at least 80 % of corporations in the EU are covered by sustainable corporate governance agreements by 2030. Furthermore, the Draft report argues for a new comprehensive legal framework (i.e. a new framework Directive) for information, consultation and board-level representation in order to strengthen, enforce and consolidate all the relevant EU laws to ensure that information and consultation is an integral part of company decision-making at all levels within companies. It recalls that the European Works Council Directive is also part of the EU acquis on information for and consultation of employees, but expresses concern over shortcomings in the directive’s design, notably the enforcement of information and consultation rights. Thus, the new framework should include or be accompanied by renewed efforts to introduce the necessary improvements to the legal framework on European Works Councils.

It remains to be seen whether the newly (re)found notion of “democracy at work” might really contribute to the meaningful strengthening of the European legal framework of Employee Involvement, or it is just more like a shallow political catchphrase, or, at best, a new starting point for a process of enhanced “mainstreaming” of the idea of worker participation within the EU. Considering this Report together with other recent EU-documents in the field (see for example: “Report on strengthening EU social dialogue” by Ms Andrea Nahles, Special Advisor on Social Dialogue to Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, European Commission, February 2021) one can be rather optimistic about the future of European Collective Labour Law.