Industrial relations and social dialogue

EU level: Latest developments in working life Q4 2019

The reactions of social partners to the Green Deal for Europe, the outcomes of the Tripartite Social Summit and the concerns of trade unions over the EU Court ruling on the implementation of the results of social dialogue are the main topics of interest in this article. This update reports on the latest developments in working life in the European Union in the fourth quarter of 2019 .

Social partners react positively to European Green Deal

On 11 December 2019, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the European Green Deal, a package of proposals to make Europe climate neutral and protect the natural environment, while improving the well-being of EU citizens and bringing benefits to businesses. The president stated that in order to ensure that no one will be left behind on the road to achieving a climate-neutral economy by 2050, the Commission has mobilised EUR 100 billion specifically targeted at the most vulnerable regions and sectors.

While the reaction of social partners was positive, they provided detailed comments on certain points. Even before the official announcement of the European Green Deal, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) stressed that ensuring workers participation in its governance aspect would be crucial to the design and implementation of effective policies. [1] In that respect, the ETUC called upon the Commission to guarantee that trade unions would be involved at all stages of the decision-making process, as well as in the policy implementation and evaluation phases.

In December, ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini pointed out that such ambitious goals will require additional funding in order to create green jobs, retrain employees and provide social protection for those who cannot be retrained. [2] In his view, this will not be ensured by the transfer of funding under the current EU budget.

According to Markus Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope, a prerequisite for the Green Deal is a strong economic pillar that will ensure the initiative does not lead to de-industrialisation and job losses. [3] In his view, there is a need for an EU industrial strategy that will allow the necessary level of funds to be raised for the green transformation.

The European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest (CEEP) emphasised the need to recognise the key role of public services and services of general interest in addressing the challenges of the climate transformation process, digitisation, and social and economic aspects. [4] 

Tripartite Social Summit discusses climate-neutral economy

The autumn Tripartite Social Summit took place on 16 October 2019, under the banner of ‘Progressing on the social and economic dimensions for a competitive, fair and sustainable Europe: The role of social partners and social dialogue’.

Discussions at this summit focused on three areas.

Transitioning to a climate-neutral economy: In the opinion of the participants, this will present opportunities but also serious challenges, particularly for low-skilled workers who are dependent on economic activities that are affected by future changes.

Investing in skills and improving access to adult training : The participants felt that significant investments would be needed in areas such as retraining and adapting existing jobs to the changing economic landscape, and improving skills and adapting them to the changing labour market.

Designing an industrial policy fit for the future: This involves designing industrial policy that can ensure Europe’s leading role in technology, innovation and sustainable development, and supporting EU citizens in acquiring the right skills to meet the needs of the labour market.

On 9 October, the European social partners (the ETUC, BusinessEurope, CEEP and SMEunited) jointly asked the European Parliament and the Commission for a more proactive and ambitious EU industrial strategy. [5] The social partners are envisage a strategy that supports the creation of more world-leading companies and technologies that are able to compete across the world, can offer good employment and working conditions, and are in line with Europe’s climate and environmental commitments and ambitions.

Future of European social dialogue unclear after EU Court ruling

On 24 October, the EU General Court released a ruling in the case of the European Public Service Union (EPSU) vs. the European Commission. This verdict may be crucial for the future of European social dialogue because it concerns the form of implementation of framework agreements concluded on the basis of Articles 154 and 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The background to the case dates from December 2015, when a delegation of trade unions (led by EPSU) reached an agreement with the European Public Administration Employers (EUPAE) representation. The agreement stated that all workers in central or federal governments should enjoy the same EU information and consultation rights on restructuring as in the private sector (previous EU directives excluded public administration from these rights).

The unions and employers then asked the Commission to forward the agreement to the EU Council to be adopted as an EU directive. After more than two years, the Commission replied that it would not forward the agreement on the grounds that there was a need to respect the principle of subsidiarity. The EPSU filed the case with the EU General Court in May 2018, asking the court to annul the Commission’s decision.

The court concluded that the Commission’s right of initiative means that it can decide whether to make social partner agreements legally binding in all Member States.

The EPSU and the ETUC both expressed disappointment with the ruling. [6] According to Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary of the ETUC, the ruling was ‘highly confusing’ and the likely consequence would be ‘more uncertainty surrounding social partner agreements instead of less’. [7] There were no comments from the Commission.

EU supports ILO Centenary Declaration

On 24 October, the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) adopted the conclusions aimed at promoting the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work. The Member States and the Commission were called upon to take appropriate action to:

  • promote ILO texts on fundamental rights at work
  • increase efforts to ensure a fair transition to sustainable future work
  • in relation to the important role of multinational enterprises, encourage and foster responsible management in global supply chains

The need to formally recognise safe and healthy working conditions as a fundamental right at work was also stressed.

EPSCO proposes 2021–2027 framework on health and safety at work

On 10 December, EPSCO invited the Commission to adopt a new EU Strategic Framework on Occupational Safety and Health for 2021–2027. The new strategy focuses on:

  • improving the protection of all employees, in particular those in atypical forms of employment
  • eliminating risks and preventing diseases, including cancers resulting from the use of hazardous substances in workplaces
  • tackling challenges related to psychosocial risks, and work-related accidents and diseases
  • meeting the challenge of a changing world of work
  • adapting jobs and working conditions to an ageing workforce

Prior to the Council of the European Union meeting, the ETUC asked the Council and the Commission to prioritise the renewal of a more ambitious strategy to avoid repeating the two-year delay that followed the expiry of the 2007–2012 strategy. [8]


The next few months promise to be busy ones in terms of activities involving social policy. In January 2020, the Commission is due to launch consultations on a framework for setting an EU-wide minimum wage. Member States have had mixed reactions to the proposal, with some fearing the impact of such regulation on national collective bargaining systems.


  1. ^ ETUC (2019), ETUC position for an inclusive European Green Deal , 23 October.
  2. ^ ETUC (2019), ETUC on European Green Deal , 11 December.
  3. ^ BusinessEurope (2019), EU Green Deal must be built on economic foundations , 11 December.
  4. ^ CEEP (2019), CEEP comments [on] the proposed EU Green Deal , 11 December.
  5. ^ BusinessEurope (2019), EU trade unions and employers want ambitious EU industrial strategy , 9 October.
  6. ^ EPSU (2019), Highly disappointing EU Court ruling , 24 October.
  7. ^ ETUC (2019), ETUC response to EU Court ruling , 24 October.
  8. ^ ETUC (2019), Another delay in renewing EU health and safety strategy would put lives at risk , 10 December.

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