Report on the EWC project

Enhancements of methodical and cultural competences for transnational employee involvement to strengthen the employee-employer co-operation in Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB.

A long and complicated title- but a very successful project for the EWC in SEB.

First of December 2011 started the common project between the SEB management, the Finance Sector Union of Sweden and the Nordic Financial Unions (NFU). The project last one year and  focused on improving the transnational co-operation between the employee representatives in the countries involved in the existing EWC for to make the work of that European body more efficient and coherent.

Background

The SEB originates from being a Swedish bank- but since the early 1970s it has become an international group with operations all over the world, constantly enlarging in Europe.

Today we found SEB in 21 countries, 17 of these in Europe. More than 17.000 employees work for the SEB group, whereof more than 50% outside Sweden. SEB had during the last 10 to 15 years expanded financial services across national boundaries, especially around the Baltic Sea. The EWC was established in May 2003 in accordance with the provisions of the Swedish Act on European Works Councils and consists of representatives from 12 countries in the EU and from all business units.

The EU-Directive on European Work Council (2009/38/EC) was revised, providing better rights of information and consultation for EWC members. This revision represents a unique possibility to start a discussion about the role of transnational workers` participation in the European Works Council of the SEB. The project partners decided to make the effort to update the employees` possibility to participate and to improve a sustained workers` participation in the SEB. The project achieved at increasing the EWC members knowledge in many different areas like national legislation on employee participation, the EU directive and cultural competence. Focus was on the role of the EWC and the management in the process of information and consultation. Another important part of the project was to face the different cultures that have an impact to the workforce and the work of the EWC itself.

The EU Commission financially supported the project and therefore was an important contribution in realizing the projects aims.

The first training seminar was held in Dublin in March 2012. The member of the steering group presented the project and explained the intention with the project events in Dublin, Stockholm and Vilnius. The presentation was followed by a “get to know each other better” by involving every participant as they were asked to tell about their experiences about changes and obstacles for the EWC work. It became very clear that there were huge differences in the national structures and ways of information and consultation. The training lessons about EU-legislation on workers` participation and the new EWC-Directive were therefore very much appreciated. As a result of the discussions in Dublin, the EWC started a discussion with the employer based on the new standards in the Directive about enlargement of the number of EWC members and the seats in the steering committee.

In June 2012 the project conference in Stockholm offered the possibility to discuss with Ulf Peterson, Global Head of Staff, how to tackle the challenge of setting standards for a sustainable and functioning process of information and consultation. The session about the differences between national systems of industrial relation was especially interesting because of the new duty for the EWC as a body set by the Directive to report back to national level even if there is no functioning information and consultation system on national level. As well the question of confidentially and how to handle confidential matters in a proper way was discussed.

Additionally the participants had the possibility to learn from other EWC experiences. The examples of the workers` participation in NORDEA and Consolis led to a lively discussion about the needs and the form of internal working structures for the EWC.

As the SEBs activities are mostly expanding in Lithuania, the second training seminar took place in Vilnius. The participants had the possibility to discuss SEBs situation and development in the Baltic countries with the Head of Baltic Division. The participants learned how the different cultures in different countries influence the understanding of the own role in the EWC and the interaction with management.

Results:

The positive and lively discussions between management and the EWC but as well between the EWC itself lead to greater understanding about the possibilities and the challenges for a well functioning process of information and consultation. The interest for the EWC has enlarged, during the project new EWC members were elected in Ireland, Poland and Latvia. The number of seats for the EWC has enlarged, too. In general, the motivation to active work in the EWC has increased significantly.  The internal work of the EWC has become much more structured; i.e. sufficient internal rules have been agreed by the EWC.

The EWC has enlarged, new members were elected in several countries, the motivation to active work in the EWC has increased significantly and sufficient internal rules have been agreed by the EWC.

Last – but not least: Voices of participants of the project:

Olivier Scholtes, member of the EWC since 2003

I am actually very surprised about how these 3 events (of the project) have been motivating. We have all learned a lot. It has changed the general perception of the EWC because we have a better understanding of it now. It brought everyone closer. It made us realise how much we could achieve by forming one group, by being organised around the select committee and by being really active and reactive.  

Ulf Peterson, Global Head of Staff, SEB

The project has been very interesting and worthwhile to deepening the understanding of what challenges both the employer and the European Works Council are facing concerning cultural differences as well as various labour law practice.

Our ambition and hope is that this will help us having a more valuable communication as well as ways of working together with the European Works Council regarding changes and challenges within the organization.