Social partners

10 september 2020

‘Social partners’ is a term generally used in Europe to refer to representatives of management and labour (employer organisations and trade unions), and in some contexts public authorities, that engage in social dialoRead more

‘Social partners’ is a term generally used in Europe to refer to representatives of management and labour (employer organisations and trade unions), and in some contexts public authorities, that engage in social dialogue. The term ‘European social partners’ specifically refers to those organisations at EU level which are engaged in European social dialogue, provided for under Articles 154 and 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The social partners play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, and are key actors in industrial relation systems. In most EU Member States, they shape working conditions and influence social policy, either through collective bargaining or tripartite social dialogue. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local), company and establishment levels. 

Read less

Recent updates

Capacity building for effective social dialogue in the European Union

The aim of this report is to add to the discussion on how Eurofound can contribute to supporting capacity building of...

Role of social partners in tackling discrimination at work

This report assesses the role of the social partners in tackling workplace discrimination. Against the background of EU...

Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Sea fisheries sector

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the...

EU context

Top

The TFEU recognises and promotes the role of the social partners at EU level and documents the EU’s commitment to facilitate dialogue between the social partners, respecting their autonomy.Read more

The TFEU recognises and promotes the role of the social partners at EU level and documents the EU’s commitment to facilitate dialogue between the social partners, respecting their autonomy. This recognition is illustrated by the adoption of the multiannual work programmes of the social partners. In these programmes, the social partners themselves set their priorities and negotiation agenda and decide on the appropriate instruments for social dialogue.

Over the years, there has been increased recognition of the role of the EU-level social partners by the European institutions. This is reflected, for example, in the establishment of an annual tripartite social summit between the European Council, the European Commission and the social partners, enabling the latter to contribute, in the context of their social dialogue, to the various components of the economic and social governance of the EU. The main cross-industry organisations representing the social partners at EU level are:

  • the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)
  • the Confederation of European Business (BusinessEurope)
  • the Association of Crafts and SMEs in Europe (SMEunited, formerly UEAPME)
  • the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of General Interest (CEEP)

The social partners play a prominent role in shaping EU social legislation. The Commission must consult the social partners before submitting proposals in the social policy field through a compulsory two-stage consultation procedure (Artilce 154 TFEU). Moreover, social partners can negotiate agreements that can be implemented either autonomously according to national practices, or be implemented at their request at EU level through a Council decision (Article 155 TFEU). To this extent, social partner agreements implemented at EU level have played a significant role in developing the EU social acquis.

In addition, the European institutional bodies view the two sides of industry as being key to the development of the European Semester, the cycle of economic and fiscal policy coordination within the EU. While the role of the social partners in the Semester is not clearly set out in the legislative framework, their participation has been recognised and strengthened in Regulation 1175/2011 on the surveillance of budgetary positions and the surveillance and coordination of economic policies. The revamped European Semester, initiated in 2015, allows more time for dialogue and greater involvement of the social partners at all levels.

National context

Social partners are core stakeholders who can assess policy needs and contribute to policy formation and to designing and implementing national reforms in the social and employment fields. This role and the need to involve the social partners in policymaking have been acknowledged in Guideline 7 of Council Decision 2018/1215 for the employment policies of the Member States, as well as in Principle 8 of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Read less

Research

Top

Eurofound investigates and reports on developments concerning the social partners, and research examines how they have responded in the EU Member States, the UK and Norway to the many new political, legal and social challenges that have arisen in recent years.

Read more

Eurofound investigates and reports on developments concerning the social partners, and research examines how they have responded in the EU Member States, the UK and Norway to the many new political, legal and social challenges that have arisen in recent years.

Trade unions

Eurofound provides comparative research and articles on the main European trade unions, their memberships, organisational densities, mandates, strategies, what they offer to their members, and many more aspects of their operation.

Employer organisations

Comparative research and articles are available on the main European employer organisations, their memberships, organisational densities, mandates, strategies and other aspects of their operation.

Involvement in policymaking

Eurofound also looks at the involvement of the national social partners in the design and implementation of reforms and policies, both in national policymaking and in the context of the European Semester and the elaboration of the National Reform Programmes.

COVID-19 and policy responses

Eurofound’s recently launched COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch collates information on the responses of government and social partners to the pandemic, including the role of the social partners in the design and implementation of the various measures in the Member States.

EU-level sectoral social partners and representativeness

European sectoral social dialogue has been slowly developing since the establishment of sectoral social dialogue committees in 1998. As of 2018, there are 43 such committees. Since 2006, Eurofound has had a mandate to carry out representativeness studies of the EU-level sectoral social partner organisations to identify the representative actors to be consulted. These studies are the most extensive mapping of sector-related employer organisations and trade unions across Europe. Research also compares the different ways in which the representativeness of social partners is defined at national, European and international levels.

Read less

Publications & data

Top

The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

  • Publications (856)
  • Data
  • Ongoing work (12)

Data

Data related to this topic are linked below.

Ongoing work

Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles.

 

Other ongoing work

  • Exploration of the role of national social partners in the European semester and analysis of quality and effectiveness of their involvement
  • Other representativeness studies on a variety of sectors to provide the European Commission with the required information to assess the representativeness of European sectoral social partner organisations.