EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Actors and institutions

‘The Union recognises and promotes the role of the social partners at its level, taking into account the diversity of national systems. It shall facilitate dialogue between the social partners, respecting their autonomy.’ (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union)   

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels.

EurWORK investigates and reports on developments concerning these actors and institutions that pertain to industrial relations and working conditions.

Read the recent article: National capacity-building initiatives for social partners: Experiences in five EU Member States (2017)

Read: Eurofound (2016) - New topics, new tools and innovative practices adopted by the social partners
Social dialogue still matters in Europe. Recent EU-level policy debates have highlighted that, particularly since the 2008 crisis, the emergence of new debates on social justice, democracy, the quality of work and new models for labour relations have been challenging traditional industrial relations and social dialogue systems. The main objective of this comparative study is to gather information on how social partners in the EU28 and Norway have responded to the many new political, legal and social challenges that have arisen in recent years.


Read: Eurofound (2015) - Role of the social partners in the European Semester
This report explores the involvement of peak social partners in the European Semester at EU and national level during the period 2011 to 2014. While their role in the European Semester is not set out in the European economic governance provisions (the so-called ‘Six-Pack’), the EU institutional bodies view the two sides of industry as being key to the development of the Semester, and have called for their closer involvement. This report assesses the degree to which the social partners are involved in the different stages of the European Semester procedure on matters regarding employment and social policy issues and how their involvement could be enhanced.


Read alsoEurofound (2014) - Social partners and gender equality in Europe

Trade unions

Eurofound provides comparative research and articles on trade unions, their memberships, organisational densities, mandates, strategies, what they offer to their members, and many more aspects of their operation.


Employers’ organisations

Comparative research and articles are available on employers’ organisations, their memberships, organisational densities, mandates, strategies and other aspects of their operation.


EU-level sectoral social partners and their representativeness

European sectoral social dialogue is an instrument of EU social policy and industrial relations at sectoral level. The European Commission is currently using more than 40 sectoral social dialogue committees to consult management and labour under Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Eurofound has been mandated to carry out representativeness studies of the EU-level sectoral social partner organisations to identify the representative actors to be consulted. These studies are the most extensive mapping of sector-related employers’ organisations and trade unions across Europe.

The concept of representativeness at national, international and European level (2016)
​The representativeness of social partners provides legitimacy for their various roles in industrial relations, whether through the vehicle of social dialogue, collective bargaining or involvement in government policymaking or implementation. This report compares the different ways in which the representativeness of social partners is defined at national, European and international levels. It shows that representativeness has various meanings across the 28 Member States and Norway, with most countries featuring a combination of legal conformity and mutual recognition.


See: Representativeness studies published by Eurofound since 2007

European Works Councils

The emergence of European Works Councils (EWCs) represents a major innovation in transnational industrial relations institution-building. Since 1994, Eurofound has been monitoring the creation and operation of EWCs as an important part of the development of an industrial relations system at European level. Studies and comparative reports as well as a number of case studies were carried out with a view to describing how EWCs function in reality.

European Works Council developments before, during and after the crisis
European Works Councils (EWCs) provide an important vehicle for transnational information and consultation in multinational companies. This report explores the efforts of 10 EWCs to make these bodies optimally fit for purpose for European company level social dialogue. Looking at the developments in EWCs over a longer period of time gives an insight into the practices and possibilities that are realised in some of the EWCs. Based on these 10 longitudinal case studies, a comparative analysis explores the factors that can influence these developments and assesses the impact of the economic and financial crisis and of the recast directive 2009/38/EC.



Other actors and institutions

The observatory will also take into consideration relevant developments related to other institutions with key roles in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and the industrial relations structures such as: labour inspectorates, labour courts, mediation, arbitration and reconciliation bodies, tripartite committees, health and safety committees, and economic and social committees or councils.