Collective industrial relations

Collective industrial relations, between organisations of workers and employers at European level, take place alongside industrial relations at many other levels: establishment, company, local, regional, sectoral, national and international. Collective industrial relations overlap with other economic, social and political dimensions, such as employment policy, gender relations and governance. Over time, the relative importance of different levels and features of collective industrial relations and their relation to other dimensions changes according to shifts in the economic, political and social context. The outcomes are reflected in different forms and degrees of interactive processes, such as tripartite concertation, social dialogue, collective bargaining, information, and consultation and participation.

An EU system of collective industrial relations implies a system, which, like the EU itself, is transnational. However, again like the EU, the Member State presence in the institutions of the transnational system of collective industrial relations is crucial. An EU system of collective industrial relations, therefore, would engage industrial relations at both the transnational and national levels.

The components of collective industrial relations in the EU usually have a legal basis. Some elements, such as European social dialogue and the European Employment Strategy, have such a basis in the Treaty. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has now also become integrated into the Treaty, following the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Others, such as European works councils, are incorporated in a directive. Finally, the Tripartite Social Summit is established by a Council Decision. The macroeconomic dialogue does not yet have a legal basis.

In recent years, the focus, in terms of collective industrial relations, has been to react to the trend towards increasing globalisation, the emergence of multinational companies and the response of labour to this. Transnational collective bargaining, which takes place in multinational companies between company management and trade unions represented in the company, also supported by European trade union federations, is seen as one way of developing industrial relations in a pan-European and globalised context. The EU supports the development of transnational company agreements through exchanges of experience, financial support, monitoring and studies. An expert group has been set up by the Commission with that aim. This group met six times between 2009 and 2011. The Commission also keeps a database of transnational company agreements.

See also: employee representation; European social dialogueEuropean social partners; EU system of industrial relations;  right of collective bargaining; right to constitute and freedom to join trade unions.

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