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A labour of love? Challenges for trade unions in Latvia

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2015 – 17:17

 As part of the Government Gazette’s extended feature on the 2015 Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU, Martins Svirskis, the economic advisor to trade union confederation LBAS outlines priorities and upcoming projects for the labour movement across Latvia and the EU. 


Photo: LBAS

Much like most EU member states and their respective trade unions, Latvia and the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) have been dealing with the challenges generated by the global financial crisis. In the EU, Latvia has been a poster child for the austerity policies promoted by the ECB and IMF. The apparent success story of Latvia and its economy has been lauded by austerity advocates in the Commission, but unlike the growth of GDP and other prerequisite indicators of economic potential which originally enabled Latvia to join the euro zone in 2014, the parallel story of bleak job prospects, low income households and social insecurity has not been publicised so enthusiastically.

Additionally, trade unions in Latvia have been facing an obstacle familiar to trade unions around the world – how to consolidate their position within the modern labour market and maintain their membership and influence in the decision making process on national and international levels. Membership plays a crucial role in enabling trade unions to fulfil their social role and functions.  However the trade union movement currently faces a decline in trade union membership resulting in fewer financial resources and a reduced ability to provide comprehensive services and support for workers.

“trade unions do not belong to the past but are active, relevant and well worth joining”

On the 1st January 2015 Latvia for the first time took over the rotating Presidency of the EU Council. The Latvian Presidency has expressed three overarching priorities: Competitive Europe, Digital Europe and Engaged Europe. With an additional focus on increasing security, boosting growth, creating jobs and establishing a digital single market, Latvia will have plenty to do at the helm of the Council Presidency the coming six months.

LBAS is a national social partner and is actively involved in the Presidency agenda. During the Presidency LBAS hopes to facilitate a better understanding of several key issues as well as generate a future action plan. The key issues that LBAS is mobilising around are:

  1.      Creating quality jobs in partnership with trade unions
  2.      Promoting youth employment and encouraging youth trade union membership
  3.       Encouraging labour force mobility
  4.       Increasing trade union influence and capacity across the EU

LBAS hopes to find innovative solutions to these issues during the Presidency in the  international conference “Trade Union Role in Promotion of Sustainable Growth and Quality Job Creation” organised by LBAS in Riga on the 26th-27th February 2015.

Also high up on the conference agenda will be the need to tackle youth unemployment across EU, how trade unions can facilitate youth employment, and the impact of the European social partners’ agreement on the Framework of Actions on Youth Employment.


Photo: LBAS

Photo: LBAS

Other topics of discussion will include international and national trade union partnership projects to protect migrant workers’ rights and promote integration. Experts from Latvia will address the challenges of the free movement of workers and labour force migration in the Latvian and European context. An assessment of trade union influence in the EU and its regions will also be put forward. Latvian and foreign trade union representatives will share their experience of membership challenges in their home countries and suggestions will be made as to how to strengthen trade union capacity, improve the quality of employment services and increase trade union influence in  decision making at national and EU levels.

On the 31st of March Latvian social partners – LBAS and LDDK – will organise an international social partners’ forum “The Role of Social Dialogue in Ensuring the Economic Growth and Qualitative Work Places”. Experts, government representatives, trade unionists and employers will share experiences on promoting social dialogue between European countries. At the beginning of June, LBAS will organise a special international trade union youth forum on strengthening young people’s participation in decision making processes across all levels.

LBAS President Peteris Krigers states that the key role of these events will be to foster the exchange of experiences among European trade unions, and to offer suggestions on how to deal with issues facing trade unions today. In addition, it will also be a good opportunity to show the public that trade unions do not belong to the past but are active, relevant and well worth joining.

Through events in Riga and other Latvian regions, LBAS will mark its 25th Anniversary, commemorating people who devoted their lives to strengthening the trade union movement in Latvia. Additionally on the 24th of April LBAS Youth Council will organise a discussion entitled “Trade Union Future in the Hands of Youth”, and on the 1st of May a trade union volley-ball game will take place. The major anniversary events will be organised around 14th-15th May in Riga, with a conference on LBAS activities during the past 25 years and a ceremony entitled “The Best Partnership Award” to greet the best trade union cooperation partners over this period. Ultimately European trade unions must celebrate the many achievements of their past, while preparing for the challenges of future.

Martins Svirskis is the economic advisor to the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS).