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Industrial relations and social dialogue

Industrial relations and social dialogue is one of the six main activities in Eurofound’s work programme for the 2021–2024 period. Eurofound will continue to operate as a centre of expertise for monitoring and analysing developments in industrial relations systems and social dialogue at national and EU level. It will continue to support the dialogue between management and labour, including in light of the impact of COVID-19, drawing on the expertise of its Network of Eurofound Correspondents at national level.

Topic

Recent updates

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The post-pandemic recovery of Europe continued in 2023, with strong job creation despite subdued economic growth, against a background of rising geopolitical tension. Eurofound’s research over the year brought to...

2 May 2024
Publication
Annual report

Key policy messages

The main findings emerging from Eurofound research serve as input for policymakers to address some of the key issues in this area.

  • The social partners, through collective bargaining, play a crucial role in safeguarding fair treatment for European workers and a stable and predictable framework for employers.
  • Effective collective bargaining ensures that competition between enterprises can focus on increasing efficiency rather than exploiting labour through common rules on pay and working conditions.
  • Industrial relations systems are increasingly under threat due to changes in society, labour markets and the organisation of work. This has posed challenges to the capacity of key actors in industrial relations systems in the Member States.
  • In terms of pay, findings show that seven out of 10 minimum wage workers in the EU report at least some difficulty in making ends meet, as compared to less than 5 out of 10 other workers; however, these figures vary greatly across countries. Against the background of the pandemic, minimum wages can play a role in the policy mix to stabilise incomes – and thus demand – to counteract a downward spiral into recession or depression.
  • Effective European social dialogue depends on strong links with the national level so the EU agenda stays relevant and EU autonomous agreements are implemented in a meaningful way at national level.
  • While several joint initiatives have emerged from European social dialogue, few agreements have been concluded. There is concern in some sectors that social partner requests to implement agreements through European legislation have been rejected, and that better links between EU and national levels are required.
  • Falling trends in trade union density are a matter for concern in many Member States. Fewer than one in three workplaces (with 10+ workers) in the EU (29%) has some form of employee representation. Legislative requirements are a key driver for the presence of representation.
  • Collective bargaining remains at the core of industrial relations systems in the EU. Policymakers should seize the opportunity of the COVID-19 crisis to introduce new initiatives to promote, strengthen and underpin collective bargaining.
  • In addition to social partner efforts, effective social dialogue and well-functioning industrial relations require public monies and the support of public authorities. Policymakers should explore new forms of knowledge transfer, resource provision and engagement with EU- and national-level social partners.
  • Safeguarding and promoting fair, well-functioning and balanced industrial relations is critical to ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth and social progress in the EU. In the wake of COVID-19, it will also be an important way for policymakers to integrate the social and economic dimensions of the EU, as set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights.

2021–2024 work plan

During 2021–2024, Eurofound will provide important insights into the challenges and prospects in the area of industrial relations and social dialogue in the EU. With a long-established expertise in this field, Eurofound explores the main developments affecting the actors, processes and key outcomes of industrial relations. It compares national systems of industrial relations, including national social dialogue and collective bargaining. Building on its EU PolicyWatch database created in 2020, Eurofound will monitor policy initiatives by governments, social partners and other actors to cushion the social and economic fallouts of the crisis, as well as to assist in the recovery efforts. Its regular reporting on pay setting, minimum wage and working time developments, as well as working life outcomes, will be ongoing.

Eurofound’s expertise supports the capacity-building of the social partners to achieve effective social dialogue, and the Agency promotes the development of the European social dialogue by looking at the representativeness of social partner organisations in different sectors to assess their eligibility to participate in social dialogue committees.

Addressing stakeholder priorities

Eurofound’s research aims to assist the European institutions, national public authorities and social partners at various levels to address the challenges facing the EU and at national level in the areas of policy formation, social dialogue, collective bargaining and the regulation of employment relations.

The Agency’s work programme is aligned with the European Commission’s political guidelines over the next four years, directly feeding into a number of key policy areas aimed at creating a strong social Europe. In particular, Eurofound will support the policy initiatives under the European Pillar of Social Rights linked to social dialogue and the involvement of workers, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specific findings will be available to inform the European policy debate on minimum wages and pay transparency, as well as on working time. In consultation with the European Commission, Eurofound will continue its focused work on European social dialogue through its series of representativeness studies in selected sectors.

 

Eurofound research

In 2024, Eurofound continues its national monitoring of trends and developments in industrial relations, social dialogue, collective bargaining and working life regulations and outcomes. 

To support European social dialogue, in 2024 the Agency plans to publish studies on the representativeness of social partner organisations in six sectors: construction, extractive industries, chemical sector, road transport including urban public transport, postal and courier services, and graphical industries. In addition, studies are ongoing on the following sectors: agriculture, temporary agency work, ports, maritime transport, tanning and leather, footwear, sugar, inland waterway transport, central government administration, railways and commerce. Eurofound continues its work on initiatives to support capacity building for effective social dialogue. In 2024, the Agency launches a new phase of Tripartite Exchange Seminars in collaboration with the European Training Foundation, Cedefop and the European Environment Agency.

Eurofound carries out its annual exercise of examining the involvement of national social partners in policymaking, in the context of the European Semester process and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which in 2024 includes findings on the role of tripartite discussions held in Economic and Social Councils in Member States having such bodies. The contribution made by sectoral social partners to the implementation of reforms and investments included in the Recovery and Resilience Plans is also analysed, looking at policy processes that link European and national policy agendas. 

Eurofound’s EU PolicyWatch database continues to capture relevant policy initiatives by governments, social partners and other actors, including those taken to mitigate the socioeconomic consequences of the war in Ukraine, as well as those related to the twin transition.

Work on outcomes in collective bargaining agreements beyond the topic of pay concludes in 2024 and the results and dataset are planned for 2025. Research also concludes on how larger increases in statutory minimum wages affect collective bargaining and collectively agreed wages for low-paid groups. 

Eurofound collaborates with the European Institute for Gender Equality in 2024 to investigate further experiences with the implementation of gender pay transparency measures, with a focus also on those Member States that have recently introduced new legislation, and how the ‘work of equal value principle’ is defined and implemented.

The annual reviews on minimum wages and on working time in the EU continue in 2024. The working life country profiles are also being updated. The ongoing monitoring of industrial relations systems includes regular updates to the European Industrial Relations Dictionary.

Key outputs

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Eurofound's 2024 work programme is set in the context of the upcoming European elections, war in Ukraine, renewed Middle East conflict and rising cost of living across the EU.

23 January 2024
Publication
Work programme
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The 2023 annual review of minimum wages was prepared in the context of unprecedented inflation across Europe. While this led to hefty increases in nominal wage rates in many countries...

29 June 2023
Publication
Research report

Eurofound expert(s)

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Christine Aumayr-Pintar is a senior research manager in the Working Life unit at Eurofound. Her current research topics include minimum wages, collectively agreed wages and gender...

Senior research manager,
Working life research unit
Publications results (531)

The post-pandemic recovery of Europe continued in 2023, with strong job creation despite subdued economic growth, against a background of rising geopolitical tension. Eurofound’s research over the year brought to light evidence on the key issues shaping the daily lives and work of Europeans.

02 May 2024

Three years after the adoption of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), this report reviews the quality of the social partners’ involvement in 2023 in the ongoing implementation of reforms and investments funded by that initiative. It also examines the quality of their involvement in the prepa

26 February 2024

In this pilot project, Eurofound successfully established the feasibility of, and piloted, an EU-wide database of minimum pay rates contained in collective agreements related to low-paid workers. A conceptual and measurement framework was devised, a total of 692 collective agreements – related to 24

26 January 2024

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the furniture sector.

08 December 2023

Previous Eurofound research developed three complementary tools to examine the dynamics of industrial relations and compare how national industrial relations systems are faring in terms of quality and change over time.

05 December 2023

In the EU, non-compliance with statutory or negotiated minimum wages averages 6.93% or 1.3%, depending on the statistics used. The lowest national estimate is 0.01% in Belgium and the highest is 11.59% in Hungary.

27 November 2023

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the woodworking sector.

21 November 2023

This study provides information to allow for an assessment of the representativeness of the national and supranational social partners at cross-industry level in the EU.

09 November 2023

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the professional football sector.

26 October 2023

This report examines the average weekly working hours across Europe in 2021 and 2022. It covers important developments resulting from legislative reforms in collective bargaining at national or sectoral level, drawing on debates about the reduction of working time and the four-day working week.

24 October 2023

Online resources results (1768)

Recent trends in health and safety at work

Health and safety at work has arisen as a very serious matter of social concern over recent years and has become a focus of interest for both the state and the social institutions concerned. The magnitude and complexity of the problem and the need to find direct and effective solutions have induced

New national agreement on continuing training

At the end of 1996, the major trade unions and employers' associations signed the Second National Agreement on Continuing Training (II Acuerdo Nacional de Formación Continua), which was later endorsed by a tripartite agreement between these organisations and the Government. The new agreements build

Employers and unions adopt positions on labour market reform

Employers and unions want to reduce the amount of temporary recruitment and the number of types of employment contract. They also want to increase their freedom to negotiate labour market issues through collective bargaining. These are the key issues in the current debate over a new round of labour

The 1997 bargaining round previewed

The majority of Norwegian wage agreements are of two years' duration, and the current settlements will expire during 1998. However, issues relating to remuneration will be renegotiated at central level in 1997. Most of the agreements between LO (the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions or

Unemployment as the focus for collective bargaining at national level

In recent years pressure has mounted on all parties involved to rethink and revise the traditional policies and practices of Greek industrial relations as well as to promote social dialogue between employers and employees. As a result of changing conditions, some believe that a new era in industrial

European social partners issue joint declaration on Confidence Pact for Employment

At a special Social Dialogue Committee meeting held on 29 November 1996, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE), and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation (CEEP) adopted a joint contribution to the

The future of the social dialogue at Community level

On 18 September 1996, the European Commission adopted a /Communication Concerning the Development of the Social Dialogue Process at Community Level/ (COM(96) 448 final). Launching the Communication, the commissioner responsible for social affairs, Padraig Flynn, said that the time had come to reform

Apparent breakdown of Belgian central bargaining

For the first time since 1960, the Belgian social partners have failed to reach an intersectoral pay agreement and have instead accepted government imposition of measures on employment and maximum pay increases. This development runs counter to all traditions of free collective bargaining and the


Blogs results (22)
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Minimum wages have risen significantly in 2022, as the EU Member States leave behind the cautious mood of the pandemic. However, rising inflation is eating up these wage increases, and only flexibility in the regular minimum wage setting processes may avoid generalised losses in purchasing power

15 June 2022
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With the arrival of the month of May, the 2022 European Semester Spring Package is anticipated soon. After a transformative year in 2021, which saw the launch of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) under NextGenerationEU, the European Semester cycle has resumed its role as the reference

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With its proposed directive on gender pay transparency, the European Commission has significantly bolstered the set of tools for delivering its objectives compared to those presented in its 2014 Recommendation. The proposed portfolio of measures addresses many shortcomings of the instruments that

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Decision-makers approached minimum wage setting for 2021 cautiously due to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Despite this, nominal statutory minimum wages rose in most Member States and the UK, although at lower rates than in recent years.

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In the context of the ongoing trend of a fall in collective bargaining coverage, and recent calls at EU level to promote collective bargaining coverage as an instrument to support fair and decent wages, new data from Eurofound’s fourth European Company Survey (ECS) show that two-thirds of workers

28 October 2020
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The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is having drastic consequences for the world of work. In most European countries workers who are not delivering essential ‘frontline’ services are being asked to stay home. Unfortunately many are out of work, while many of those who are not are minimum-wage and low

1 April 2020
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As one of their ‘100 days in office’ initiatives, the new European Commission intends to propose an initiative for an EU minimum wage. The aim is that by 2024 every worker in the EU should earn a fair and adequate wage, no matter where they live.

15 January 2020
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Trade unions in many EU Member States face the issue of declining membership. This is a fundamental challenge for organised labour, but it is premature to speak about the redundancy unions: when it comes to important decisions affecting the workplace, restructuring being one, trade unions remain a

20 November 2019
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The International Labour Organization (ILO) met for the first time 100 years ago, and right at the top of the agenda for discussion for this new specialised UN agency was the 8-hour working day. This discussion subsequently resulted in the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, which stated that ‘The

12 November 2019
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The European Platform Tackling Undeclared Work last year documented the case of a Dutch temporary work agency that hired workers of various nationalities to work for a construction company in Belgium. The wages were suspiciously low, and the Belgian Labour Inspectorate believed that EU law

17 July 2019

Upcoming publications results (9)

This report reviews the quality of the national social partners’ involvement in the implementation of the reforms and investments shaping the digital and green transition in the context of national policymaking. These reforms and investments stem mainly from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

March 2025

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the extractive industries sector. Their relative representativeness legitimises their right to be consulted, their role and effective par

December 2024

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the construction sector. Their relative representativeness legitimises their right to be consulted, their role and effective participatio

December 2024

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the chemical sector. Their relative representativeness legitimises their right to be consulted, their role and effective participation in

December 2024

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the road transport sector. Their relative representativeness legitimises their right to be consulted, their role and effective participat

December 2024

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the postal and courier activities sector. Their relative representativeness legitimises their right to be consulted, their role and effec

November 2024

This study provides information allowing for an assessment of the representativeness of the actors involved in the European sectoral social dialogue committee for the graphical industry. Their relative representativeness legitimises their right to be consulted, their role and effective participation

November 2024

This publication comprises individual country reports on developments in working life in each of the 27 EU Member States and Norway in 2023, based on national research and survey results.

June 2024

The 2024 annual review of minimum wages presents the most recent rates of national minimum wages and recalls how they were set and agreed upon during 2023. It includes information on minimum wages set in sectoral collective agreements in countries without national minimum wages.

June 2024
Data results (10)

Eurofound publishes gross and nominal statutory minimum wages applicable in EU countries that have a statutory minimum wage.

25 January 2024
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