Collective bargaining

04 June 2019

Collective bargaining refers to all negotiations between trade unions and employers for determining working conditions and terms of employment, including issues related to pay and working time, and for regulating relations between employers and workers (ILO Convention 154).

Collective bargaining, the core of organised industrial relations, takes place in different institutional settings. National systems vary in terms of the respective roles of collective bargaining and legislation in regulating the labour market, in the levels at which bargaining is conducted (cross-sectoral, sectoral, company and workplace, regional, occupational), and in the way in which negotiations at different levels may interrelate (articulation). The degrees of centralisation and coordination of collective bargaining – and especially pay bargaining – are important features of the system, with implications for both labour market and macroeconomic outcomes. The outcome of collective bargaining is typically a collective agreement. Such agreements can regulate both the procedures for relations between the signatory parties and the terms and conditions of employment of those workers covered by the agreement, such as pay and working time.

While the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union recognises the autonomy of social partners, in particular in relation to pay bargaining, EU policies nevertheless exert a significant influence on collective bargaining and the wider industrial relations system. One example are the country-specific recommendations (CSRs) in the framework of the European Semester, which have addressed issues such as aligning pay developments with productivity, minimum wage-setting and pay indexation systems. More generally, collective bargaining takes place within a framework which is, in part, set by EU legislation, including provisions concerning equal pay for work of equal value and the requirements of the Working Time Directive and related legislation.

Eurofound's work

Eurofound collects country-level information on collective bargaining in the EU through its Network of Eurofound Correspondents. Across the EU, collective bargaining coverage is very diverse, as Eurofound research shows. About 60% of employees are covered by collective bargaining in the EU, but this ranges from 80% or more in some countries to less than 10% in others (European Commission data).

Key contributions

Eurofound’s working life country profiles outline the collective bargaining systems in the 28 EU Member States and Norway.

Closely linked to the profiles is the database of wages, working time and collective disputes, providing regular updates on the pay and working time setting systems in place in each country and including data on the level of collectively agreed pay or working time.

Eurofound’s report on collective bargaining in Europe in the 21st century maps developments over a 15-year period in the main aspects of collective bargaining – apart from pay and working time, which are analysed separately. The study aims to map long-term trends and identify changes brought about as a result of the crisis.

Furthermore, the series ‘Developments in working life in Europe: EurWORK annual review’ presents up-to-date collective bargaining information.

Collective bargaining on pay

Eurofound reports regularly on pay developments across the EU, monitoring how pay outcomes are adjusted in line with changes in economic circumstances. 

National wage-bargaining institutions are crucial in achieving pay outcomes that help to increase employment and economic growth. Using a large set of empirical macroeconomic data from various sources, Eurofound’s report on pay in Europe in different wage-bargaining regimes analyses how the institutional features of national wage bargaining regimes influence pay outcomes.

A study on pay in Europe in the 21st century provides comparative time series on wage bargaining outcomes across the EU Member States and Norway. In doing so, it discusses pay developments against the background of different wage bargaining regimes and looks into the link between pay and productivity developments.

Collective bargaining on working time

Eurofound monitors the nature and extent of the role of collective bargaining in determining working time across the Member States, taking into account that bargaining takes place at different levels (intersectoral, sectoral, company) and that bargaining coverage varies considerably by country.

Research on working time developments in the 21st century looks at work duration and its regulation in the EU. The report examines the main trends and milestones characterising the evolution of the most important aspects of collectively agreed working time in the EU during the first decade of the 21st century.

Eurofound also produces a bi-annual report on the major developments in working time in the EU and Norway based on national reporting. It provides a general overview of the present status of the duration of working time as a result of collective bargaining, and complements the database of wages, working time and collective disputes. 

Survey data on collective wage agreements in Europe

Eurofound’s European Company Survey (ECS) gathers data on collective wage agreements and looks at the extent to which establishments are covered by collective bargaining at any level. It examines the level of information provision, consultation and negotiation in establishments and also looks at the influence of employee representation and social dialogue at company level. 

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