EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations are the relationship between the individual worker and their employer. This relationship is shaped by legal regulation and by the outcomes of social partner negotiations over the terms and conditions governing the employment relationship.

Jump to: Employment status, Conditions of employment, Employment relations and rights

The concept of individual employment relations broadens the coverage of EU labour regulation from the narrower scope of the ‘contract of employment’, based on the criterion of employee subordination to the employer.

Individual employment relations have been a core interest of the European Union from its inception in the context of creating a common labour market for all workers, including self-employed workers, and guaranteeing their rights to free movement and social security. Individual employment relations have also been of concern to the EU due to labour’s role as a factor of production in European economic integration. Labour costs, particularly indirect labour costs, are an element of competition between enterprises in different Member States, particularly since the global financial and economic crisis struck Europe in 2008. The crisis and the related impact on industrial relations and working conditions are changing the world of work in Europe.

Employment relations are an important focus of Eurofound’s work and are covered extensively in the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) as well as in other research on particular aspects of the topic. EurWORK monitors and reports on individual employment relations issues, including the areas described below.

Read: Quality of employment conditions and employment relations in Europe

This report provides an in-depth analysis of the quality of employment conditions and employment relations in the European employed workforce. Employment in the report is viewed as the contractual relationship between an employer and a worker, specifically how the rights and duties embedded into the relationship are translated into real rights. The analysis is mainly based on data from the fifth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), conducted in 2010.


Employment status

Eurofound has identified employment status as one of the major factors influencing quality of work. In today’s labour market, with unemployment still a major issue in many countries, there is a trend towards greater flexibility in contract relationships. This makes part-time work, fixed-term work and temporary agency work more commonplace, alongside traditional full-time jobs. Posted workers – workers who work temporarily in a different Member State from the one where they normally work –and their working conditions are increasingly under debate.

The EWCS looks at the employment status of workers throughout Europe, and these data, including trends over time, can be explored in the Survey Mapping Tool. Eurofound’s research highlights the strong correlation between temporary employment and poor working conditions as well as poorer health in general.

Read the following recent articles:

Read also: Posted workers in the European Union

This report examines the extent of the phenomenon of the posting of workers, the roles played both by European and national-level legislation in determining the employment and working conditions of posted workers and the roles played by legislation and collective bargaining – and how these two domains interplay. The report is in part an update of earlier work carried out in 2003 by Eurofound into the issue – not least, updating the findings with data from the new Member States, which had not joined the Union at that time. 


Read also: Self-employed workers, industrial relations and working conditions

This report presents an overview of the industrial relations and employment and working conditions of self-employed workers in the European Union and Norway. It presents basic trends in self-employment, highlights issues concerning the definition of self-employment and offers an overview of the national situations regarding the legal framework. The study also examines social security as a crucial aspect of the regulation of self-employment and a source of differences between employees and self-employed workers. Recent reforms in this area have often focused on increasing protection measures. 

Conditions of employment

An important step in securing workers’ rights was taken by Council Directive 91/533, which requires employers to provide written proof of employment, as a means of combating undeclared work. This written proof must include information on employment status and conditions, including all essential terms and conditions of employment, such as the place of work, description of the work, working time, leave and notice entitlements, and so on. The written information must include the collective agreements and working conditions governing the employee’s conditions of employment.

EU legislation regulating substantive conditions of employment includes wide-ranging provisions in two particular areas: discrimination and equal treatment, and health and safety in the working environment. EU laws prohibiting discrimination on grounds of gender, race or ethnic origin, age, disability, religion or belief, and sexual orientation are concerned with less favourable treatment as regards pay and working conditions, as well as access to employment, dismissal and vocational training.

EU regulation of health and safety has had a considerable impact on individual employment relations. For example, the particular risks to the health and safety of temporary workers led specifically to Council Directive 91/383. It also has important consequences for the organisation of working time –on overtime working, for instance. Council Directive 93/104/EC establishes entitlement to annual leave that does not permit the exchange of such leave for payment.

Exploring the fraudulent contracting of work in the European Union (2016)
The fraudulent contracting of work is an important issue in many European countries today. EU and national policymakers have turned their attention to violations of the basic protection provided by employment law and collective bargaining that are linked to the fraudulent use of certain employment or commercial contracts.



Regulation of labour market intermediaries and the role of social partners in preventing trafficking of labour (2016)
The right to free movement for workers within the European Union was enshrined in Art. 48 of the EEC Treaty in 1957. Nowadays, private labour market intermediaries – such as temporary work agencies and employment placement agencies – contribute to facilitating this labour mobility in their role as mediator between individual workers and organisations in need of labour. This report examines how public authorities are currently regulating labour market intermediaries across Member States.

Employment relations and rights

At EU level, the social partners have become important regulators of employment relations, through the adoption of framework agreements on issues such as part-time work, parental leave and fixed-term work. These agreements have been translated into EU directives binding on all Member States. The social dialogue route to EU regulation on individual employment does not always lead to legal regulation, however.

The representatives of the social partners at EU level may also conclude autonomous agreements that are contractually binding on the social partners but which are not translated into legally binding directives. These agreements set a basic standard that the social partners at national, regional and sectoral level can refer to in drawing up their own agreements, and these agreements do determine individual employment relationships and the content of employment contracts. Regulation of individual employment may also be achieved through a combination of legislation and collective bargaining.

Finally, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, an integral part of EU law, includes definitions of fundamental individual employment rights, including protection of personal data (Article 8), freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work (Article 15), non-discrimination (Article 21), equality between women and men (Article 23), protection in the event of unjustified dismissal (Article 30), fair and just working conditions (Article 31) and prohibition of child labour and protection of young people at work (Article 32).

Read: Maternity leave provisions in the EU Member States: Duration and allowances (2015)
The Maternity Leave Directive (92/85/EEC) is concerned with improvements in the safety and health at work of women who are pregnant, have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding. This report finds that nearly all Member States comply with the directive’s provision of granting at least two weeks’ mandatory maternity leave before and/or after childbirth; a majority exceed this requirement. And in the majority of Member States, replacement rates stand at 100% of the former salary – at least for a certain period of time. 

Read: Promoting uptake of parental and paternity leave among fathers in the European Union (2015)
The take-up rate of parental and paternity leave among fathers has been increasing in most Member States but it still remains relatively low. Covering all the EU Member States and Norway, this report looks at the most recent trends in terms of take-up of parental and paternity leave, existing provisions and factors influencing take-up rates. It also examines measures and initiatives recently implemented by national authorities, governments and social partners to promote the take-up of parental and paternity leave, particularly among fathers.


Read also: Employment and industrial relations aspects of the Charter of Fundamental Rights