Conference on tripartism

EU Presidency Conference on Tripartism in an enlarged European Union

Co-organised by the Danish Ministry of Employment and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Hotel Comwell, Elsinore, Denmark
29-30 October 2002

See also conference information from the Danish Ministry of Employment.

Speech abstract - Markku Wallin
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Finland

Employment Policy And The Role Of Tripartism

Employment and Income Policies

European employment policy includes targets and activities for more and better jobs. Its aim should be to push forward the supply of labour and self-employed persons and increase sustainable demand of labour. At its best it improves the wellbeing of the labour force and develops the abilities of persons to stay active longer in working life. Policies also aim to increase changes to improve the labour market position. One of the tasks of employment policy is also to offer equal opportunities in labour markets for both sexes and disadvantaged persons.

In the European context the incomes policy in its whole is keenly related to the employment policy both as a target and as an instrument. This makes the employment and incomes policy in Europe far more a subject of tripartite treatment than in other parts of the global economy. In practice it is very difficult to separate the employment and incomes policy from economic and structural policies (goods and financial markets) as to their effect - and it is not even wise to make the separation except for practical reasons.

Practical approach

Tripartism means in practice negotiating, selling and buying, between the social partners and the state. The variation of cases tempts to grow huge. For example if the partners negotiate on wages, the state can involve itself in the process by selling social security improvements or tax reliefs for lower wage increases - these are cases which are not preferable but happen in practice. The political process can also let the parties take a stand in legislation concerning working life. However, it is always necessary to stress also the responsibility of all of the parties - the financing should be sustainable and the solutions in everybody's response. It is also necessary the whole time to evaluate the results of the process.

Finland as an example

Tripartism in Finland has an old history - both for good and bad. It has been a part of the process in delivering the wellbeing and insuring one of the most equal incomes distribution in the whole world. This has not however been always good for employment. The economic crash at the beginning of the 1990s caused immense unemployment partly because the labour markets were not flexible.

On the other hand the tripartism understood quickly the realism and it became possible to negotiate agreements with very low or even null wage increases, changes in employment contracts legislation, working time adjustments, unemployment benefits, employment traps in social benefits and pensions as well as the financing of these systems which all helped to improve the supply and demand of labour. The tripartite negotiating system in Finland is continuous, including bodies like the Permanent Council for Labour Affairs, the Committee on Labour Policy plus several working and ad hoc groups. There are bodies also at regional and local levels.

Involvement in the EU employment policies

The essential reasons for the partners' participation in EU employment policy are on the one hand the possibility to effect the policy and on the other hand to get the commitment to the policy. Most of the countries have a tripartite working group meeting before the Council and the EU Employment Committee meetings. The tripartite ad hoc group is working in preparation of the National Action Plan for Employment.

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