LISTEN WITH READSPEAKER
Industrial relations:social dialogue under strain in Europe says new
The on-going economic crisis poses a serious challenge to the dialogue
between workers' and employers' representatives and governments according to a
report published today by the European Commission.
The report shows that recent government reforms have not always been
accompanied by fully effective social dialogue, leading to increasingly
conflictual industrial relations in Europe.
László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and
"Social dialogue is under increasing pressure in the current context of
depressed macroeconomic demand, tax increases and government spending cuts.
We need to reinforce the role of social partners at all levels if we
are to come out of this crisis and preserve the benefits of the European social
Well-structured social dialogue is also indispensable to address the
challenge of demographic change and to achieve better working-conditions and
higher social cohesion.
Social dialogue must be strengthened in Central and Eastern European
Member States, where it is currently significantly weaker."
The involvement of workers' and employers' representatives (the "social
partners") in government reforms is vital, as solutions found through social
dialogue tend to have wider acceptance in society, to be easier to implement in
practice and to be less liable to give rise to conflict.
Consensual agreements involving the social partners therefore help to
ensure the long-term sustainability of economic and social reforms.
Well-structured social dialogue can effectively contribute to the
economic resilience of Europe.
In fact, countries in which social dialogue is well-established and
industrial relations institutions are strong are generally those where the
economic and social situation is more resilient and under less pressure.
The problem-solving potential of social dialogue can help to overcome
the current crisis.
The new report illustrates how the outcomes of European social dialogue
can make a real difference to the working lives of Europeans, for example on
improved health and safety at work and working conditions.
In light of the government spending cuts in many Member States, the
report focuses on industrial relations in the public sector:
public administration, education and healthcare.
Governments have prioritised efficiency gains within public sector
In some countries this process has continued, with a more balanced
approach and limited conflict, preserving the scope for collectively agreed
solutions between trade unions and the public sector.
Elsewhere the methods chosen to implement decisions have often excluded
the use of social dialogue.
This trend is not limited to those countries receiving financial
assistance from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
As a result, in many Member States, tax increases and government
spending cuts triggered a wave of industrial conflicts and highlighted the
contested nature of some of the reform measures that were not subject to social
Central and Eastern Europe
The report also analyses in depth the state of social dialogue in
Central and Eastern Europe.
While there is wide diversity between countries in the region, all of
them, with the notable exception of Slovenia, have weak and fragmented
industrial relations institutions.
In fact some reforms actually undermine the involvement of social
partners in introducing changes.
The report shows that revitalising national industrial relation systems
in order to promote and restore consensus is essential to ensure the long-term
sustainability of the economic and social reforms underway.
Other issues examined in the report include the involvement of social
partners in unemployment and pension system reforms and in the transition
towards an economy that is more sustainable and less dependent on fossil fuels.
While in countries such as Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Spain
trade unions were involved in the pension reform process, elsewhere the role of
social partners has been minimal, leading to conflict.
With respect to climate change, the report documents that social
partner activities in this area are on the rise and that their attitude to the
green agenda is increasingly supportive.