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Europe’s manufacturing workers need urgent action to avoid a tsunami of job losses



According to the European Commission’s Spring forecast, the Covid crisis risks 4.7m redundancies across Europe. And the second wave will increase this risk. This will create a challenge for unions, business and government. Indeed, the scale of the Covid 19 crisis for our members across Europe’s manufacturing, mining and energy sectors has been staggering.

The pandemic has accelerated and intensified existing structural changes due to decarbonisation and digitalisation in our sectors.

We are witnessing massive and simultaneous sectoral restructuring across our economies. During the last few months In the automotive industry, over 100,000 job losses have been announced. A similar situation is happening in aerospace, where we see a lot of European cooperation. Airbus, the poster child for European industrial cooperation, currently has 15,000 jobs at stake.

Meanwhile in basic metals, especially the steel sector, we risk losing half of Europe’s steel capacity and thousands of jobs through this crisis without urgent targeted action.

Just Transition will mean nothing if there is no plan for the transformation of these key European sectors. We know from experience that once gone, it’s extremely hard to recover industrial production. At the same time, the pandemic has shown the need for strategic autonomy.

Given all these challenges, IndustriALL Europe has welcomed the EU Recovery Plan.

But the plan will only be successful if we create a pan European plan bound with a strong, forward-looking industrial policy, using all the tools available and underpinned by strong social dialogue and partnership.

However, we are witnessing two worrying trends. We are seeing an assault on worker participation and collective bargaining in many countries. Big non-European multinational companies have announced closures of companies in Europe, despite serious buying interest from others. Two examples of this include Alcoa intending to end aluminum production in Spain and Bridgestone in France. Vigilance is needed to protect EU industries against opportunistic or hostile takeovers, and asset stripping.

For industriAll Europe the EU must maintain the ambition to remain an industrial powerhouse capable of taking the lead in transitioning towards a climate-neutral, resource-saving sustainable economy, while at the same time maintaining and creating quality jobs for millions of industrial workers.

At the same time this industrial policy also needs a strong social pillar and workers’ involvement at all levels from shopfloor to strategic decision-making. These transitions will profoundly change our way of living and working and, unless social cohesion and solidarity are guaranteed, it will fail.

The main objective must be employment. No public money should be allocated without strong social strings attached.

We need to ensure a level playing field through trade measures, relaxation of state aid and competition rules, and ambition in our research and innovation programmes.

The transition to a digital and climate neutral economy will require massive investments to adapt industrial production facilities and related infrastructures, and to ensure a just transition for workers.

The EU Recovery offers an opportunity to strengthen the EU digital autonomy and the EU Digital strategy provides another important compass to drive investment. The Green Deal objectives, and especially the proposed revision of the 2030 climate targets will significantly deepen the investment gap that needs to be bridged to reach the climate targets. Up to half of Europe’s blast furnaces, crackers and cement works will need renovation or renewal by 2030.

The EU Budget and the Recovery and Resilience Facility should support projects that ensure that no worker will be left behind in the green transition. Enough financial investment is needed (especially in the most affected regions) so that good quality jobs, reskilling and upskilling opportunities are available to workers.