Social partners and racism: the impact of the European joint declaration

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Date of Publication: 27 Juuni 1997


Combating racial discrimination and xenophobia is an issue which has become increasingly prominent on the European Union agenda in recent years. Since the mid-1980s, a rising tide of concern with the problem can be perceived in various declarations and resolutions by Community institutions, and notably in the inclusion of the issue of racial discrimination in the 1989 "Social Charter". The past two years, especially, have seen significant developments, many of which are of direct relevance to employment and industrial relations. Some of the notable recent landmarks have included:

  • the Council of Ministers' October 1995 Resolution on the fight against racism and xenophobia in employment and social affairs;
  • the adoption in December 1995 of the European Commission's first Communication on racism, xenophobia and social affairs
  • the declaration of 1997 as the European Year against Racism. This move had been proposed by the Commission, and was approved by a July 1996 Council Resolution;
  • the creation of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, based on a Council Regulation adopted in June 1997; and
  • the inclusion in the draft Amsterdam Treaty in June 1997 of a new Article 6A allowing the Council to "take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation".

The increasing level of European-level activity to combat racism has not just involved the EU institutions, and the social partners have also been playing an important role. Most visibly, on 21 October 1995, 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) signed a "Joint declaration on the prevention of racial discrimination and xenophobia and promotion of equal treatment at the workplace" (see box below for details). The purpose of this supplement is to examine the extent to which this joint declaration has had an impact at national level, a year and a half or so after its adoption. The focus is on joint action by the social partners in response to the declaration. The findings are based almost wholly on a brief "snapshot" of the position in each country of the EU, plus Norway, provided by the national centres of the European Industrial Relations Observatory (the individual national reports will be available on the EIRO database). The picture is thus very much a provisional and interim one.

Problems of assessment

In attempting to assess the influence and impact of the social partners’ joint declaration, the issue is clouded by the fact that it forms part of a recent series of initiatives addressing the problem of racial discrimination and xenophobia. As noted above, at EU level the period immediately before and after the adoption of the declaration has seen a number of other important, and often linked, developments – most notably, the declaration of 1997 as the European Year Against Racism (EYAR). Very briefly, the EYAR is a key part of the Commission's strategy to combat racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, and aims to:

  • highlight the threat posed by these problems to the respect of fundamental rights and to economic and social cohesion;
  • encourage reflection and discussion on measures required to combat racism, xenophobia and antisemitism;
  • promote the exchange of experience on good practice and effective strategies devised at local, national and European level;
  • disseminate information on good practice and effective strategies;
  • make known the benefits of national-level integration policies, in particular in the fields of employment, education, training and accommodation; and
  • turn to good account the experience of people actually affected, or likely to be affected by racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, and promote their participation in society.

The EYAR consists of information and communication projects and exchange of experience projects, at all levels from the national to the Community. The action involves all relevant parties, including the social partners.

While the declaration obviously focuses essentially on the sphere of employment and the EYAR has wider concerns, the two initiatives clearly have many of the same objectives and use many of the same methods, while the social partners are heavily involved in the EYAR’s activities (in national coordination committees, for example). While this is a positive state of affairs, with the joint declaration forming one part of a wider movement of activity and awareness-raising on racial discrimination, the result is that it is often very difficult to distinguish the effects of the joint declaration from those of EYAR (and, to a lesser extent, other initiatives). This overlapping between the declaration and the EYAR is noted in many countries. In most cases, the two initiatives are seen as mutually reinforcing, though in one or two countries (such as Austria), EYAR is perceived in some quarters to have overshadowed the declaration to a degree.

The extent and nature of the effect of the joint declaration at national level is also strongly influenced by particular factors in each country (see below). A key issue is the extent to which the social partners had a history of addressing racial discrimination issues prior to the adoption of the declaration. Where this is the case, the direct effect of the declaration is again difficult to distinguish, as measures arising from national initiatives may tend to overlap with those arising from European-level developments. Countries where policy and activity in this area, either joint or unilateral (usually among trade unions), were already relatively well developed include Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom.


The general picture across Europe is that the central social partners organisations - usually the members of the signatory European bodies – are fully aware of the joint declaration. However, in a number of countries, this awareness (and especially detailed awareness of the declaration's contents) may be largely restricted to those individuals in these organisations with particular responsibility with race and migrant issues – this seems to be the case in Austria and Belgium, for example.

The evidence of dissemination of awareness and information about the declaration to lower-level organisations is rather patchy. Countries where there is clear evidence of such activity include Germany and the United Kingdom. In the Netherlands, the central social partners, through the Labour Foundation, have distributed information on the declaration and incorporated it into their own initiatives in this field, and it is these which are better known among individual unions and employers’ organisations than the declaration itself.

In Italy, it is reported that there have been some difficulties in dissemination to sectoral and local structures (though there appear to have been significant efforts by trade unions to diffuse knowledge about the declaration). Awareness among the affiliates of central organisations is thought to be uneven and limited in Ireland. The declaration would not appear to have been widely publicised outside the main trade unions and employers’ in Spain. Similarly, it is reported from Greece that there has been no action by central organisations to disseminate information, and that there is a lack of information at the base.

In terms of awareness at the level of the individual company and workplace, there is no real evidence, though the general perception is that such awareness is very low (though with the obvious exceptions of those company-level initiatives discussed below).

Awareness is clearly difficult to gauge. Response to the joint declaration is easier to measure where awareness has been translated into some concrete joint action, and it is to this issue that we now move.

Joint action

National level

As indicated by table 1, the central national social partners have taken some joint action which is clearly directly inspired by the European joint declaration, and which refers explicitly to it, in Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. In Sweden, the social partners have signed their own joint declaration, based on the European text, while in Greece and Portugal the social partners have incorporated their commitment to the joint declaration in national intersectoral agreements. in Luxembourg, the private sector central social partners have jointly recommended the joint declaration to their affiliates, while in the Netherlands, the social partners have incorporated aspects of the declaration into the implementation of their existing national agreement on ethnic minority issues.

In Ireland, the social partners have agreed a joint code of practice on preventing racism in the workplace, which, while not referring to the joint declaration, covers similar issues. The declaration, along with the EYAR, can be seen as the catalyst for this initiative. In Denmark and the UK, the joint declaration has been a contributory factor, along with the EYAR, to joint activities - including publications and workshops - conducted by the central social partners.

Table 1. National intersectoral joint action
DENMARK The central trade union and employers' organisations, LO and DA, jointly produced a booklet on equal treatment for ethnic minorities in February 1997, which has been distributed to local company cooperation committees with the aim of raising awareness and inspiring the committee's work in this area. This initiative has not been solely or specifically prompted by the joint declaration, but arises from a number of factors, which also include the EYAR and increased number of refugees from former Yugoslavia
GREECE The National General Collective Agreement 1996-7 refers explicitly to the joint declaration, stating that the parties "adopt the joint declaration against racism and recognise the need to plan and put into practice specific policies of equal opportunities and equal treatment in recruitment, selection, work allocation and access to training and education". However, it appears that no joint action is being planned and the SEV employers’ organisation doubts if this issue will be included in the next national agreement.
IRELAND In June 1997, the central trade union and employers' organisations, ICTU and IBEC published a "Joint code of practice on preventing racism in the workplace". While it does not refer explicitly to the joint declaration, the code addresses the issues and aims of the declaration, and there is little doubt that the declaration, together with the EYAR, acted as a catalyst in bringing IBEC and ICTU together to tackle the issue of racial discrimination. The code of practice recommends a number of guidelines for practical measures in areas such as interviewing, job descriptions and selection criteria and advertising vacancies. ICTU and IBEC will also provide practical support to their members through the dissemination of information and advice and the inclusion of anti-racism guidelines in relevant training courses. Responsibility for addressing racial discrimination is not seen by the peak organisations to reside with them alone: their members are also being asked to produce policies on racial equality, including procedures to deal with discrimination or harassment.
LUXEMBOURG In October 1996 (according to the "Compendium of good practice" compiled by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions), the OGB-L and LCGB trade union confederations and the FEDIL employers' organisation issued a joint recommendation to the private sector social partners,referring explicitly to the joint declaration. They recommended that the content of the declaration be integrated into company-level industrial relations, and distributed copies of the declaration, along with a brochure summarising its objectives.
NETHERLANDS A national "minority agreement" was signed by the central social partners in 1990, which is evaluated and followed up through the bipartite consultative Labour Foundation. The Foundation's interim evaluation of the agreement published in 1996 contained a summary of the joint declaration, and the agreement's follow-up report, published in late 1996, refers explicitly to the joint declaration and includes details of it, stating that "the social partners believe that the European declaration against racial discrimination could constitute a concrete reference point for the continued effectiveness of an anti-discrimination stance within our society". The minority agreement provides for measures such as: drafting action plans to increase the number of personnel from ethnic minorities; stimulating works councils to take an active part in promoting recruitment from ethnic minorities; inserting provisions in collective agreements to increase job opportunities for these groups; and setting up sectoral projects to promote the integration of people from ethnic minorities.
PORTUGAL As part of the tripartite strategic social pact for 1996-9, the Government, the UGT union confederation and the CIP, CCP and CAP employers' confederations set out their commitment to eradicating racial discrimination and promoting equal opportunities. Referring explicitly to the joint declaration, the social partners undertake to encourage the fight against racism and xenophobia at the workplace.
SWEDEN In November 1995, the SAF employers' confederation and the LO and TCO union confederation adopted their own joint recommendation, referring explicitly to the joint declaration at European level. The document reaffirms the declaration's principles and commits the parties to participate actively in efforts to prevent racial discrimination and to act jointly against such discrimination in the work places. LO and TCO, along with the SACO confederation of professional unions have since signed a similar declaration with the three organisations for public sector employers. All the organisations now are working to realise the declarations' objectives, and cooperation is reportedly good. Joint activities include: joint publication by SAF, LO and TCO of a booklet of 50 pages for distribution to private sector workplaces, aimed at inspiring management and local unions to work in the spirit of the declarations; a joint SAF, LO and TCO visit to the UK to learn from the joint work of TUC and CBI; the joint publication by the Federation of County Councils and its trade union counterparts of a report on "the multicultural county council"; and programmes of joint experiments in companies and public authorities to try out means of furthering equal opportunities and changing attitudes.
UNITED KINGDOM There are very few direct references to the joint declaration in the work of the social partners on combating racial discrimination. However, the impression is that a number of organisations are using the EYAR and the joint declaration as a focus for renewing their activities on race equality issues and launching new ones. Examples include the following: in October 1996 the CBI employers' confederation launched a publication, "A winning strategy - the business case for equal opportunities", which was supported by the TUC union confederation; TUC, CBI and the Institute of Directors have signed a joint letter voicing concern about the possible discriminatory effects of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996; and in December 1997 the CBI and TUC are running joint workshops on methods of eliminating racial discrimination in the workplace.

Elsewhere, there are no reports of specific national-level joint activity in response to the joint declaration. However, in Finland actions are due to start later this year, with a tripartite seminar invovling all the central social partner organisations to be held in November, and there are hopes of a national declaration in Spain. Although our focus here is on such joint action , it should be noted that there have been unilateral responses by the social partners in some countries. For example, in Denmark, the FTF union confederation for white-collar workers and civil servants has used the declaration as the basis for a discussion paper circulated among its member unions and district offices for debate and consideration, with a request for ideas for initiatives (likely to be finalised in August 1997).

Sectoral and regional level

It would appear that joint activity directly and explicitly prompted by the European joint declaration has been very limited at sectoral level or regional level. Table 2 gives brief details of two of the very few such initiatives reported - an agreement in the Belgian temporary employment sector, and a joint declaration in the Marche region of Italy. It may be that some of the national level initiatives mentioned above have been followed up at sector level - this is the case in the Netherlands (where numerous sectoral agreement deal with this issue) and Sweden- but this has not occurred in cases such as Greece and Portugal.

Table 2. Sectoral/regional joint action
BELGIUM In May 1996, a collective agreement was concluded in the temporary employment agencies sector, setting out a code of good practice to prevent racial discrimination against foreign temporary workers. The agreement refers explicitly to the joint declaration. Although this remains an isolated example, according to the FEB/VBO central employers' organisation, it is only the beginning of the process.
ITALY In March 1997, a joint declaration was signed by regional-level social partners in Marche, central Italy. The text refers explicitly to the joint declaration by CEEP, ETUC and UNICE and commits the signatories to following the "spirit" of that declaration in their actions. The parties will undertake joint training on discrimination and equal opportunities at the workplace during 1997, publish and circulate a "Guide against racism at the workplace" and disseminate the European joint declaration itself.

Company level

Joint activity at company level directly and explicitly prompted by the European joint declaration is very hard to identify. The only very clear example reported is the campaign by IG Metall in Germany to conclude works agreements on combating racial discrimination, which has led to a number of company agreements. This initiative is summarised in table 3, along with several examples from Belgium and France, where there may be some indirect influence of the joint declaration. However, it should be noted that company-level developments are difficult to monitor, and the motives and inspiration of social partners at this level are not easy to establish.

Table 3. Company-level joint action
BELGIUM There have been a number of joint actions at enterprise level, though without a clear reference to the joint declaration. In some companies, at the proposal of the works councils, clauses aimed at preventing racial discrimination have been inserted into works rules. Elsewhere, surveys and studies have been conducted to evaluate the impact of discrimination and propose remedial measures. In other companies there are informal agreements, usually initiated by union delegations, providing special conditions for workers from particular ethnic groups, in areas such as holidays, canteen arrangements and prayer facilities. Companies with non-discrimination clauses include General Motors, Métallurgie Hoboken and BRT. The joint declaration may help publicise such initiatives and bring about new ones.
FRANCE As part of a programme of "action research" conducted by the CFDT union confederation - inspired at least in part by the joint declaration - the union's local branch at the Société nationale de roulement, a ballbearing manufacturer, in Alès (southern France) has initiated discussions with management on increasing the recruitment of young people of North African [maghrébin] descent. The branch has drafted a protocol, which does not set a quota, but lays down objectives in terms of: management responsibility to address racial discrimination; seeking to diversify the ethnic mix of the workforce; and long-term guarantees on equal opportunities in recruitment.
GERMANY In 1996, the IG Metall metalworkers' trade union, with explicit reference to the joint declaration, disseminated a brochure containing a draft works agreement "for the fight against and the removal of discrimination of foreign workers and the improvement for equal opportunities at the workplace". The draft aims to develop guidelines to help companies and the employee representatives to avoid racial discrimination and to secure equal opportunities for German and non-German workers regardless of their colour, race, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin. The draft proposes a broad range of measures and initiatives to be taken jointly by the social partners at company level, many of which follow very closely the provisions of the joint declaration. The initiative is currently under discussion in a number of companies, though only a few works agreements have been concluded so far. The most prominent examples are those at Thyssen AG (July 1996), Volkswagen AG (June 1996) and TWB-Presswerk (a few companies, such as Ford or Preussag AG, already had agreements before the joint declaration and the IG Metall initiative).

Overall assessment

The picture which emerges of the direct national impact of the joint declaration is that so far it is both patchy and limited. In a minority of countries, there has been some national-level joint action directly inspired by the declaration, but evidence of lower-level joint initiatives, even in these countries, is very hard to come by. The patchiness of the national impact is attributable largely to particular national situations, with a number of factors hampering direct effects in terms of joint action. To take number of examples:

  • some of countries have traditionally had a relatively small population from ethnic minorities, and social partners have not tended to see racial discrimination as an important issue. This is the case in, for example, Finland and Ireland. Conversely, in Luxembourg, the fact that over half of active population is made up of foreign employees, plus very low unemployment, means that racism has not been regarded as a problem. However, there are signs in all cases that this is changing;
  • in some countries, such as Austria and France, not all the key social partners are members of the organisations which signed the European joint declaration;
  • the issues covered by the joint declaration may not be perceived by all the social partners as appropriate subjects for collective bargaining or other forms of joint action - examples include France, Portugal and Spain;
  • in France the rise of the extreme Right has meant that the primary objective of union activity in this area has been to tackle racism among their own members, rather than to attempt joint activity. Also, a perception is reported, notably among employers, that the declaration leans heavily on an "Anglo-saxon" model and raises problems for the French tradition; and
  • in Greece, its is reported that there is a general slowness in the whole area of equal opportunities, with inadequate legislation and a lack of initiatives from the social partners.

As mentioned above, the existence of EYAR and other European initiatives means that it is very difficult to single out the specific results of the joint declaration. Furthermore, in many countries there are existing national programmes and activities, which have overlapped with (and in some cases obscured) the joint declaration - an example is Norway, where the conclusion joint declaration coincided with the planning of a major joint campaign against racism. There, are however, signs that the impact of the joint declaration may be growing clearer and stronger in some countries in the future (for example, in Belgium, Finland and Spain). Perhaps the most important point is that in most of the countries examined, there is a a healthy and rising level of interest and activity in the field of combating racial discrimination and promoting equal opportunities. The joint declaration has played a positive role in prompting awareness and concrete action, alongside a range of other European and national initiatives, which together can be seen as creating a kind of synergy (for example, in Italy the declaration is seen as playing a significant role in legitimising and promoting pre-existing activities). There is arguably little point in seeking to trace each national development back to a particular initiative, when it is more appropriate to welcome the overall effect.

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Lisa kommentaar