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01 / 07 / 2004
Emilio Gabaglio, former general secretary of the European Confederation of trades unions: “Europe’s chapter on social rights is at the highest possible level”

The Forum’s 141 questions (53): “And about rights in the workplace, what does the European Constitution say on the matter?” Emilio Gabaglio, former General Secretary of the European Confederation of Trades Unions (CES), has pointed out, “the rights of European citizens have legal validity”. He mentioned that Europe should back social development and sustainability to allow access to decent jobs, and commented that the trades union movement “should open expand and fill new spaces” to increase its degree of representation among workers

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Emilio Gabaglio, one of the most relevant trades union figures of the 20th century, today stated at the Haima State that Europe should preserve its social model and, at the same time, try to exploit the conditions that the present legal framework has to offer: “we have managed to get fundamental rights of citizens included in the constitutional treaty and the chapter on social rights is at the highest possible level”. After reminding the audience that European trades unions represent 60 million affiliated workers, he went on to point out, “Europe should not degenerate into a happy island floating on a sea of misery. Trades unions should put their strength into helping those who suffer the lack of social liberties and trades unions”.

In terms of the supposed low percentage of affiliated workers, Emilio Gabaglio commented that in some European countries this is 60 or 70%. In Germany or Italy that figure is between 35 and 40%, and France has the worst percentage due to the excessive fragmentation of the trades union movement, “and to the fact that objectives such as the 35 hour working week were achieved through legislation, without the central trades unions intervening”. He denied that trade unions have lost their “attraction” amongst workers. “Many join, but also many leave after their first year. We must ask ourselves why they don’t continue”, he concluded. Overall, Gabaglio recognized that trade unions “must become more open and cover new territory” to get better representation among workers. In this sense, he referred to the claims of women in the workforce, the integration of immigrants and the concerns of young people as priority issues to be addressed.

The former secretary-general of the CES between 1991 and 2003 pointed out that with the current trend for company relocation the most developed countries must suggest alternatives. “It is necessary to establish an industrial policy capable of innovation and producing new employment opportunities”. He expressed regret about the “pathological aspect” that characterizes some relocation procedures: “Companies create unemployment when they leave and cause exploitation and under-employment in the place where they relocate. We must make sure the trade union movement prevents these situations”.

He pointed out that Europe must advocate social and sustainable development that allows access to decent jobs: “We must not give up on full employment if we understand that to be the result of the opportunities such development may offer through reduced working hours and jobs combining work and training”.