More than 40 representatives from trade unions and from the Clean Clothes Campaign network came together in Bratislava for an international conference on “Living wage for garment and shoe workers in Europe” to discuss about ways and means to improve wages and working conditions in this sector. The conference was jointly organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), industriAll European Trade Union and the Slovak Center for Communication and Development (SCCD).
Bettina Musiolek, CCC coordinator for the region, presented the findings of two CCC reports titled “Stitched Up” from 2014 (see: https://cleanclothes.org/livingwage/stitched-up) and “Labour on a shoe string” from 2016 (see: https://cleanclothes.org/resources/recommended-reading/labour-on-a-shoestring). The reports cover the wages paid for garment workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey and the working conditions Europe’s shoe manufacturing peripheries in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Luc Triangle, Secretary General of industriAll European Trade Union, emphasized the importance of building trade union power to improve working conditions in the sector. This is more important than ever, given the increasing pressure that trade unions face in the region due to various challenges such as the loss of industrial jobs, difficulties to sign collective agreements on sectoral level or unfavorable labor laws. At the same time, trade unions have signed Global Framework Agreements (GFA) with a number of big brands which allows them to bring up violations of workers’ rights in the dialogue with these brands. In this context, the information and research about the working conditions on the ground provided by CCC can be useful.
Branislav Ondrus, State Secretary in the Slovak Ministry of Labour, spoke about the importance of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), which has the potential to become a strong instrument for better working conditions in Europe. He called on all participants to actively use the ongoing public consultation of the European Commission on the EPSR. Without such engagement there is the risk that the EPSR ends up as one more document without a big impact.
The conference made clear that both trade unions and labor / human rights NGOs share the same goal but follow different approaches to reach these goals. A closer exchange between representatives from both sides that respects this diversity would be beneficial to improve wages and working conditions in the garment and shoe sector. The conference was an important step towards this, since many participants stressed that it was the first time for them to have such in-depth exchange.