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ISSUE 52 page 5

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Social dialogue blooming under EU tutelage

The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) or ‘Lisbon Treaty’ obliges the European Commission to ‘facilitate dialogue between the social partners, respecting their autonomy’. Since 1998 the Commission has  laid down a structure for employer-union committees at EU-level and many more have sprung up. We examine their progress and achievements.
SOME EU-WIDE EMPLOYER-TRADE UNION COMMITTEES  were set up in the nineteen-fifties and from then until the ‘nineties sectors such as steel, agriculture, transport, telecomms and postal services formed their own bodies to discuss European policy as it affected their industry. Anxious to stimulate their spread the European Commission established, in 1998, a single structure for all existing and future ‘sectoral social dialogue committees’.  Since then another fifteen have come into existence bringing the total to forty, covering about 145 million workers. The Commission can approve a new Committee when both sides of an industry request it as long as they verify that the organisations concerned are representative, are recognised in a number of Member States and are capable of participating effectively. In practice this usually means, on the union side, one of the twelve industry federations of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Once set up the Commission is keen for these bodies to negotiate in order to agree opinions, guidelines and even new laws given force by EU directive. This has happened on five occasions regulating working time for seafarers, airline staff and railway workers and implementing the Maritime Labour Convention as well as preventing sharps injuries in hospitals. Altogether 550 texts have been jointly agreed in social dialogue but most of these were opinions and declarations. They chiefly concerned economic policy, social dialogue itself, health and safety, training and working

Steel

2006 (1951)

Banking

2006 (1951)

Extractive industries

2002 (1952)

Civil aviation

2002 (1952)

Agriculture

1999 (1964)

Telecommunications

1999 (1964)

Road transport

2000 (1965)

Cleaning industry

2000 (1965)

Inland waterways

1999 (1967)

Construction

1999 (1967)

Sugar

1999 (1969)

Textiles/clothing

1999 (1969)

Railways

1999 (1972)

Private security

1999 (1972)

Sea fisheries

1999 (1974)

Postal services

1999 (1974)

Footwear

1999 (1982)

Woodworking

1999 (1982)

Horeca (hotels, restaurants, catering)/tourism

1999 (1983)

Electricity

1999 (1983)

Commerce

1999 (1985)

Local and regional government

1999 (1985)

Insurance

1999 (1987)

Contract catering

1999 (1987)

Maritime transport

1999 (1987)

Personal services

1999 (1987)

Live performance

1999

Tanning and leather

2001 (1999)

Temporary agency work

1999

Furniture

2001

Shipbuilding

2003

Audiovisual

2004

Chemicals industry

2004

Hospitals

2006

Metalworking

2010 (2006)

Gas

2007

Professional football

2008

Education

2010

Paper

2010

Central public administrations

2008-2010 (test phase)

conditions. Technical tools developed by the committees include a manual on the ergonomics of cleaningand a web site for construction workers posted abroad.
This year three new sectors have set up social dialogue committees: the paper industry met in April and the education sector convened for the first time in June while representatives from central administration resolved to do the same before the end of 2010. With the obvious success of the dialogue process the European Commission wanted to find out just how effective it is in changing things in the workplace. So it has consulted the social partners and published its findings on ‘the functioning and potential of European sectoral social dialogue’. They affirm that the committees are well placed to respond to the continuing changes in the labour market which are also addressed by the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy. Accordingly it is setting up ‘European sector councils on skills and jobs’. They are also increasingly involved in policy making as they have to be consulted on social policy initiatives as well as the impact assessments required for any new European legislation.  However the Commission want to see more agreements particularly those involving more than one sector. It says that most results of social dialogue are ‘soft’ in that they disseminate good practice or build consensus and must be monitored more closely. The Commission promises to use EU funds to help.

Founding dates of EU social dialogue committees: old form in brackets

This feature is largely based on an article in European Employment Review

 

 




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