EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Collective employment relations

The central concern of employment relations is the collective governance of work and employment.

Jump to: Legal basis; European social dialogue; Sectoral representativeness; Pay and working time; Employee representation; Information and consultation; Employee participation; Industrial action and dispute resolution; Industrial relations in other global economies

Collective employment relations between employers’ and workers’ organisations are fundamental to the regulation of employment and industrial relations in all EU Member States and at EU level. Collective employment relations may take place at many levels: establishment, company, local, regional, sectoral, national, EU and international levels. And such relations are exercised in different forms:

Eurofound provides access to a database of wages, working time and collective disputes.

Read: Mapping key dimensions of industrial relations
This report maps, analyses and discusses key dimensions and indicators for a comparative framework of industrial relations. It then identifies and assesses existing data sources that can be used to measure the different dimensions of the comparative framework. Lastly, it identifies possible data gaps that may be filled through Eurofound’s future work in the 2017 project, ‘Application of the key dimensions of industrial relations’. 


Read: Collective bargaining in Europe in the 21st century

Collective bargaining systems in the EU have undergone a steady change since the end of the 1990s. But as businesses across Europe struggle to respond to intensifying global competition, pressure from employers for greater flexibility in collective bargaining is increasing, especially since the 2008 economic crisis. This report sets out to map developments in all major aspects of collective bargaining (apart from pay and working time, which have been analysed separately by Eurofound) over the past 15 years.

Legal basis

Collective employment relations in the EU usually have a legal basis. Some elements, such as EU social dialogue and information and consultation, have a basis in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EU Charter further includes, in Article 28, the right of collective bargaining. The European Court of Justice has upheld collective agreements as being exempt from EU competition law.

See: Competition law and collective agreements

European social dialogue

At EU level, Articles 154–155 of the TFEU state that the Union will facilitate social dialogue between the social partners.  The treaty requires that the Commission consult the social partners – management and labour – before submitting proposals in the social policy field, both on the possible direction of action and on the content of any envisaged proposals (Article 154). The social partners may undertake a dialogue at EU level, which may lead to agreements. These agreements can be made legally binding by a Council decision.  Such implementation of EU social dialogue agreements is a form of extension of collective agreements through EU legislation. A number of framework agreements have been concluded within EU social dialogue at both sectoral and intersectoral levels and transformed into Council directives.

See: European social dialogue

Representativeness of sectoral social partners

Given the importance of EU-level social dialogue, the European Commission has mandated Eurofound to study the representativeness of European social partner organisations. The aim of this exercise is to identify the relevant national and supranational industrial relations actors in each sector to be consulted under Article 154 of the TFEU.

The concept of representativeness at national, international and European level (2016)
The representativeness of social partners provides legitimacy for their various roles in industrial relations, whether through the vehicle of social dialogue, collective bargaining or involvement in government policymaking or implementation. This report compares the different ways in which the representativeness of social partners is defined at national, European and international levels. It shows that representativeness has various meanings across the 28 Member States and Norway, with most countries featuring a combination of legal conformity and mutual recognition.


Visit: European sectoral social partner organisations and their representativeness

Pay and working time

Eurofound has been examining developments in the main outcomes of collective employment relations – collectively agreed pay and working time – since 1999, and has developed a database illustrating the pay-bargaining systems in the Member States. Displayed in a range of formats (maps, bar charts and tables), the database draws on two key indicators: the primary level at which pay is set and the degree of coordination.

Read: Eurofound (2014) - Pay in Europe in the 21st century

The issue of wages has attracted particular attention at European level since the onset of the economic crisis. Changes in economic governance, notably within the European semester, have prompted discussions on wage‑setting mechanisms. While, overall, wage‑bargaining regimes have remained relatively stable over time in many countries, the most substantial changes were seen in Member States facing more difficult economic circumstances.


Read:  Eurofound (2014) - Developments in collectively agreed working time 2013

Employee representation

Employee representation is the right of employees to seek a union or an individual to represent them in negotiating with management. A mandatory element of labour law, collective employee representation is a pillar of collective employment relations in the EU. Employee representation is rooted in the Member States’ labour laws on trade unions and representation of workers, in the form of bodies based in the workplace or based on corporate structures. Features of the national collective employment relations systems of EU Member States, and also of some of the leading world economies, are described and analysed in Eurofound’s industrial relations country profiles, in the annual reports on working conditions and industrial relations, and in a large number of comparative analytical reports. The European Company Survey (ECS) provides a comparative mapping of establishment-level employee representation (trade unions and works councils) across Europe.

Read: Eurofound (2013) - Employee representation at establishment level in Europe

Across Europe, diverse forms of employee representation structures have developed, providing workers with differing opportunities to voice their interests and to be consulted by their employers directly, at their workplaces, on matters such as economic and human resources developments, working conditions and health and safety measures. This report focuses on the workplace dimension of institutionalised representation of employees.


Information and consultation

Directive 2002/14/EC established a requirement for the general informing and consulting of employees in all undertakings with at least 50 employees; previously, it was required in such specific areas as health and safety, collective dismissals and restructuring of enterprises. Article 1(3) of the directive stresses the role of ‘a spirit of cooperation’; how successfully this spirit can be realised depends on a number of factors, such as whether the timing of informing and consulting will allow for employee representatives to influence management decision-making, and whether failures on the part of management in informing and consulting staff will be effectively remedied.

Read: Eurofound (2015) - Linking information and consultation procedures at local and European level

Eurofound (2013) - National practices of information and consultation in Europe

The aims of this project are to explore recent experiences in the practice of information and consultation (I&C) at national level, building on the findings of the report Information and consultation practice across Europe five years after the EU Directive (Directive 2002/14/EC). The research analysed the effects of the I&C Directive both on national I&C practice – specifically on employees, trade unions and employers’ associations, and companies (in particular, HR managers) – and on national systems of industrial relations.

Employee participation   

Employee participation means the involvement of employees in management decision-making by means other than information and consultation.

  • Direct employee participation takes place between employees and managers without an intermediary.
  • Indirect participation takes place through employee representation.

Financial participation may also be practised; this encompasses different schemes under which employees can benefit from the organisation’s financial performance. Eurofound has examined the extent of employee participation and its role in the modernisation of the organisation, and has explored the impact of financial participation on employee relations and human resource management policies.

Read: Third European Company Survey – Direct and indirect employee participation
This report studies practices in EU establishments for direct and indirect employee participation in decision-making. Indirect employee participation is the involvement of employee representatives in decision-making processes, while direct employee participation describes direct interaction between employers and employees. The study builds on the survey data from the Eurofound Third European Company Survey 0verview report and focuses on how direct and indirect employee participation are related to each other and to national-level industrial relations characteristics. 

Read: Eurofound (2012) - Workplace social dialogue in Europe: An analysis of the European Company Survey 2009

Around one third (34%) of workplaces with 10 or more employees have a trade union or works council body in place. Considerable variation exists between countries: the rate is above 55% in Denmark, Sweden and Finland but below 20% in countries such as Turkey, Greece and Portugal. Substantial variations also exist depending on industry sector and workplace size. Many of these characteristics are related to the presence or absence of a trade union or works council.


Read: Eurofound (2012) - Role of social partners in addressing the global economic crisis

This working paper examines how social dialogue has addressed the impact of the crisis. In order to make reasonable comparisons between countries as diverse as Brazil, China, Japan and the USA it is necessary to take into account the institutional, political, economic and social backgrounds. However, the purpose of this short paper was not to provide a profile of the countries included but rather to identify practices employed by the social partners in dealing with some of the great challenges caused by the crisis.


Read: Eurofound (2009) - Overview of industrial relations in the EU and other global economies 2008–2009