Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home topics Social Policy European social dialogue: benefits for workers and companies

European social dialogue: benefits for workers and companies

29 November 2007
by eub2 -- last modified 29 November 2007

The Portuguese EU Presidency and the European Commission organised a major conference on 29 and 30 November 2007 in Lisbon to discuss the concrete outcomes of European social dialogue and the benefits they have brought to European workers and companies.


What is European social dialogue?

European social dialogue refers to the discussions, consultations, negotiations and joint actions undertaken by the social partner organisations representing the two sides of industry, i.e. trade union and employer organisations.

At European level, social dialogue takes two main forms - a bipartite dialogue between the European employers and trade union organisations, and a tripartite dialogue involving interaction between the social partners and the public authorities.

European social dialogue complements the national practices of social dialogue and industrial relations which exist in all Member States. Through this instrument, social partners assist in the definition of European social standards and play a vital role in the governance of the European Union.

European social dialogue is therefore one of the main instruments for employment and social policy at EU level, next to legislation, the open method of coordination and funding, e.g. through the European Social Fund.

Who participates in European social dialogue?

The actors in European social dialogue are the organisations representing workers and employers at European level. Social partners play a particular role in the area of employment and social policy, due to the interests they represent on the labour market.

The European social partners draw their legitimacy from the mandate they receive from national trade union and employers' confederations. The representativeness of European social partners is verified by the Commission and independent studies.

There are two levels of social dialogue:

The cross-industry dialogue is the broadest level covering the whole of the economy. The cross-industry organisation representing workers is the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), whose delegation also encompasses two organisations for professional and managerial staff (Eurocadres and CEC). The employers are represented by BUSINESSEUROPE (Confederation of European Business), CEEP (European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest) and UEAPME (European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises).

The sectoral level covers specific branches of the economy, e.g. retail trade, construction, transport, agriculture, financial services. There are 35 sectoral social dialogue committees. More than 60 organisations participate in these committees.

The Commission's role in social dialogue is to provide balanced support to both sides of industry. It chairs most of the social dialogue meetings as an impartial mediator.

What is social dialogue about?

The European social dialogue has resulted in a variety of outcomes and forms, ranging from joint opinions to guidelines, codes of conduct and agreements. These instruments can cover all possible subjects in the area of social affairs: working conditions, equal opportunities, health and safety at work, training, information and consultation of workers, etc.

The EC Treaty recognises the social partners' right to be consulted before the Commission proposes new legislation in the labour and social field (Article 138).

The Treaty also established the social partners' capacity to negotiate agreements which are legally binding – an ability which sets social partners apart from other actors of the civil society. Agreements can be implemented in the EU Member States by way of Council Directive or by the social partners themselves (Article 139).

Recent results include the following:

  • Agreement on maritime labour standards (November 2007): This agreement aims to incorporate certain provisions of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006 into Community law. This would create binding standards for seafarers' working conditions. Consequently, sub-standard working conditions and social dumping would be reduced. The social partners of the maritime transport sector requested the Commission to make a proposal for a Council directive through which the provisions contained in their agreement would become Community law.
  • Joint analysis of the key challenges facing European labour markets (October 2007): This analysis was foreseen in the social dialogue work programme for 2006-2008 and covers a wide range of themes including flexicurity, active labour market policies, education and training, macroeconomic policies, social inclusion, mobility and labour law. Following an extensive analysis of the facts and challenges, the social partners have made recommendations both to European institutions and Member States as well as for themselves. The document will form the basis for the negotiation in 2008 of a new agreement to improve the employability of workers.
  • Framework agreement on harassment and violence at work (April 2007): This agreement aims to prevent and, where necessary, manage problems of bullying, sexual harassment and physical violence at the workplace. Companies in Europe will have to adopt a policy of zero-tolerance towards such behaviour and draw up procedures to deal with cases of harassment and violence where they occur. The agreement shall be implemented by social partners in all Member States by 2010.
  • The social partners' report on the implementation of the European framework agreement on telework (September 2006): This is the first joint report on the implementation of an agreement that has been put in place directly by workers’ and employers’ representatives in Member States in an autonomous way (in line with article 139 of the Treaty). According to the report, almost all Member States (except Cyprus, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania) as well as Iceland and Norway, have implemented the 2002 telework agreement. This has been carried out in line with national industrial relations systems and traditions so provisions for telework have been put in place in different ways such as through national and sectoral collective agreements (FR, IT, LU, GR, DK, SE), codes of conducts (UK and IE) and legislation (CZ, HU, PT).
  • Multi-sector agreement on workers' health protection through the good handling and use of crystalline silica (April 2006): This agreement protects workers by reducing their exposure to crystalline silica dust, which can lead to silicosis, a potentially fatal lung condition. The agreement prescribes good practices for handling the potentially dangerous material at the workplace to be implemented in all companies. It establishes a monitoring committee to settle questions on the application and interpretation of the agreement.

How to find out more about the European social dialogue?

The website on European social dialogue provides information on the structures, working methods and content of social dialogue. It contains a database with all documents adopted by the European social partners.

Source: European Commission

Sponsor a Guide

EUbusiness Guides offer background information and web links about key EU business issues.

Promote your services by providing your own practical information and help to EUbusiness members, with your brand and contact details.

To sponsor a Guide phone us on +44 (0)20 7193 7242 or email sales.

EU Guides