Social dialogue committee launched in education sector

The European Commission has launched a new social dialogue committee for the education sector after four years of campaigning by unions to bring the social partners in the sector together. Its first plenary session took place in Brussels on 11 June 2010 and the new committee will address a range of relevant issues, including the teaching, working and learning environment, the impact of demographic trends on the sector, budgetary constraints and recruitment and retention issues.

The new social dialogue committee was launched on 11 June 2010 with an inaugural meeting of representatives of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) – composed of teachers’, trainers’ and lecturers’ trade unions – and the European Federation of Education Employers ( EFEE), which represents education ministries, regional and local authorities, state agencies and other types of employer organisations. EFEE is a relatively new organisation, founded in February 2009.

Remit of new committee

The new social dialogue committee will aim to discuss a range of issues that are pertinent to the sector, including the following:

  • improving the teaching, working and learning environment by identifying and exchanging good practices;
  • the impact of demographic trends;
  • the recruitment and retention of staff during the current period of strict budgetary constraint.

The committee set up three working groups to deal with the following issues:

  • quality in education;
  • demographic challenges;
  • higher education and research.

These working groups are expected to meet regularly during 2010 and 2011 before reporting back to the plenary of the committee with proposals for action on these particular topics.

Importance of sectoral social dialogue committees

ETUCE and EFEE are also involved in negotiations with the social partners from other sectors on adopting EU-level guidelines to tackle third-party harassment and violence at work.

This is the most recent sectoral social dialogue committee to have been launched at EU level – 39 such committees have been created since 1988 and they have adopted more than 500 texts in the form of autonomous agreements, codes of conduct, guidelines, frameworks of action and common websites. The education sector employs an estimated 14.7 million workers, representing 5.7% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) and educating around 93 million pupils and students in the EU each year. The new social dialogue committee will cover the whole education sector: pre-primary, primary, secondary and vocational education and training, higher education and research.

New committee welcomed

The Commissioner of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, welcomed the formation of the new social dialogue committee, stating:

Education is both a political priority and a key sector of the labour market in Europe, but in these times of crisis it faces more challenges than ever, from budget constraints to teacher recruitment. The European social dialogue on education is a crucial tool to bring employers and employees together and tackle these challenges with joint solutions.

In its statement welcoming the launch of the committee, ETUCE said:

The education sector is one of the most important sectors in the social dialogue system in terms of employment, and an essential European political priority. Thus, the [new committee] is a crucial step for the achievement of the EU2020 goals, bringing European employees and employers in education together. The [committee] will deliver joint declarations and statements as well as common tools strengthening the European approach to education, taking off with a joint ETUCE-EFEE declaration on investments in education, addressing the current challenges facing the European education sector.

ETUCE also noted that the setting up of this committee is the result of its work over more than four years to establish social dialogue at national and European level. A significant step was the creation of EFEE in February 2009 and the submission of a joint ETUCE-EFEE application to create a sectoral social dialogue committee under the terms of the EC Treaty.

Commentary

The establishment of a committee for the education and research sector is an important development for the European sectoral social dialogue process. This is an important sector for the EU, not only in terms of the numbers of people it employs but also because of the significant part it plays in the EU economy, accounting for €583 billion of public spending each year. It also has an important contribution to make to the future development of the skills and competence levels of the EU population and workforce.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

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