Positive assessment of 1999 social dialogue

The EU-level social dialogue process in 1999 has been given a positive assessment by the European Commission in its latest annual report on the subject, published in May 2000. The report examines both multisectoral and sectoral dialogue and records increased activity at both levels.

In May 2000, the European Commission's Employment and Social Affairs Directorate-General (DG) published its annual report on the EU-level social dialogue process in a special edition of its European social dialogue newsletter, entitled Highlights 99. It looks at the social dialogue activities of the social partners in 1999 at multisectoral, sectoral and intersectoral level, in addition to giving an overview of social partner preparations for enlargement. In the foreword to the report, the then acting deputy director-general of the Employment and Social Affairs DG, Odile Quintin, states that in 1999, the European social partners "stepped up their activities and initiatives considerably and their work already clearly reflects the new opportunities offered and responsibilities assigned them under the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties."

Multisectoral level

At multisectoral level - ie the level normally referred to as "intersectoral" or "interprofessional", involving principally theEuropean Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and theEuropean Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) - the report divides activities in 1999 into six categories, as follows.

  • Implementing the Luxembourg strategy and the Cologne process. The report notes that the social partners' participation in the European employment strategy launched at the 1997 Luxembourg "jobs summit" (EU9711168F) was expressed primarily by the conclusion of an agreement on fixed-term contracts in January 1999 (EU9901147F), which was formally signed on 18 March 1999 (EU9903162N). Further, a joint declaration on the employment of people with disabilities was adopted on 11 May 1999. As part of the "Cologne process" (EU9906180N), a "macroeconomic dialogue" involving the social partners, Member States, and European institutions was established in 1999, within the framework of the "European employment pact" put forward by the German Presidency of the European Council (EU9905174N). On 2 June 1999, the social partners adopted a joint declaration on their willingness to reinforce the practical procedures for this dialogue.
  • Combating discrimination. The social partners' activities in this area included the organisation of two seminars based on Article 13 of the EU Treaty, on 26 May 1999 and on 16 December 1999, and a conference on 7-8 June 1999, in which social partner debate focused on disability.
  • Telework. A first EU-level telework discussion amongst the social partners took place at a seminar on 9 June 2000 and the report notes that the social partners have a key role to play in this field (EU0007259N).
  • Social protection and supplementary pensions. A number of social partner initiatives in this area took place, notably the participation in a seminar on supplementary pensions on 17 November in Brussels and the expression of a desire to be involved in a Pensions Forum which met for the first time on 13 January 2000.
  • Observatory on Industrial Change. An exchange of views was held at the Social Dialogue Committee meeting on 30 November 1999 on the subject of the European Observatory on Industrial Change which the Commission will be setting up (EU0007266F) in response to the recommendations of the 1998 Gyllenhammar report (EU9805106N).
  • Standing Committee on Employment. The first meeting of the reformed Standing Committee on Employment (EU9903160N) was held on 26 April 1999 and was devoted to seeking consensus on the European employment pact. The second meeting was held on 11 November 1999.

Sectoral level

The report notes that, following the recent reform of the sectoral dialogue (EU9902150F), 23 new sectoral dialogue committees had been or were in the process of being set up by the end of 1999. Of these, nine were former joint committees, 11 former informal working parties and three were entirely new – in culture (live performance), personal services (hairdressing) and tanning. Activities in the sectoral dialogue are grouped under the following headings.

  • Employment and change. Highlights included joint declarations in the tanning industry (7 December 1999) and the textiles and clothing industry (20 December 1999) supporting the setting up of a European Observatory on Industrial Change.
  • Working conditions. Highlights included an agreement on working time for mobile staff in the civil aviation industry, which was formally signed on 22 March 2000 (EU0004238N).
  • Equal opportunities and combating discrimination. Highlights included a seminar on equal opportunities in public services in March 1999 and a seminar on equal opportunities in the electricity sector.
  • Codes of conduct and social labels. Highlights included an "in-principle" agreement in the tanning industry and an agreement on fundamental rights and principles at work in the commerce sector (EU9911213F).

Intersectoral activities

The main event described in the report as an "intersectoral-level activity" in 1999 was the organisation of a conference by the European Commission on the subject of the employability and productivity of older workers, which took place in Stockholm. The conference brought together human resources directors of major companies and stressed the need for a partnership approach to reconciling age and productivity.

Enlargement

One of the main social partner events to take place in 1999 was the organisation of a conference at the request of the social partners on 18-19 March 1999 in Warsaw (EU9904166F). The conference aimed to discuss the challenges of EU enlargement for the social partners and the role the social partners will play in this process. A joint declaration was adopted, in which the social partners reaffirmed their view that the social dialogue is vital to the success of reform of the EU and its enlargement to applicant countries. In addition, the social partners launched a range of joint and individual initiatives, including a joint project outlining the consultation and social dialogue practices and systems in the applicant countries. A dedicated public service seminar was held on 2-3 December 1999 by the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) to look at the challenges of enlargement for public sector undertakings.

At sectoral level, a range of discussions were held on the subject of enlargement in sectors such as construction, rail, road and inland waterways, private security and the cleaning industry, alongside a number of special seminars. For example, in finance, the European Regional Organisation of the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (Euro-FIET) - now part of Union Network International (UNI) Europa (EU9909192N) - held a conference on collective bargaining, bank privatisation and change in June 1999 in Prague, which was attended by delegates from six applicant countries.

Commentary

The European social dialogue is proving to be a rather vibrant process, having recently received new impetus from a range of areas. Social dialogue at multisectoral level is benefiting from a number of European-level initiatives, such as those announced at the Luxembourg summit in November 1997, the European employment pact drawn up during the German EU Presidency of the first half of 1999 and the recent Lisbon summit, held in March 2000 (EU0004241F). The process continued during 2000, with the opening of social partner talks on the issue of temporary work (EU0005245N) and the Commission's recent social partner consultation on the modernisation of work organisation (EU0007259N).

The social dialogue process at sectoral level has also received something of a boost lately, not least by means of the new dialogue committees which are being set up in a variety of sectors. This process is set to continue and in 2000 has already produced some important texts, such as the employment joint declaration signed in the commerce sector in April (EU0005243N) or the joint declaration on EU enlargement signed in the cleaning industry, also in April. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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