The future of social dialogue, tripartitism and bipartism: Collective employment relations - Q4 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

5 maart 2015


This article presents some of the key developments and research findings on EU-level developments in collective employment relations during the final quarter of 2014. Social dialogue structure and process reforms are the main focus of this report.


On 5 March Read more

This article presents some of the key developments and research findings on EU-level developments in collective employment relations during the final quarter of 2014. Social dialogue structure and process reforms are the main focus of this report.


On 5 March 2015, the European Commission organised a high-level conference in Brussels –  A New Start for Social Dialogue – bringing together EU-level social partners and other organisations.  With this event, the Commission seeks to discuss concrete ways to strengthen social dialogue throughout the EU. At national level, as EurWORK’s quarterly reporting shows, social partners and governments are engaged in discussing the future of social dialogue in several Member States. An overview of the current ongoing debates is given here.

Reform of national-level social dialogue structures and processes

Social dialogue, whether conducted through tripartite concertation or bipartite dialogue in the Member States is both concerned with topical issues and considerably occupied with trying to establish, re-adapt and revise the 'rules of the game'. Reforms regarding social dialogue structures are currently underway, at various levels, in a number of Member States (see figure). Major debates in Lithuania, Malta and Poland, and legislative proposals about the reform of the national level tripartite institutions in Romania, are underway – often against the background of attempts to resolve deadlocks in concertation. In Sweden and France, such debates and reform concern the strengthening of bipartism.

Figure 1: Reforms to social dialogue structures, processes and tripartite concertation

Reforms to social dialogue structures, processes and tripartite concertation









Strengthening tripartism

In Finland, the role of social partners inthe traditional tripartite setting has been subject to some debate. In December 2014, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb sparked the debate on the role of social partners by stating that one of the factors holding back the country’s economic development is the constant search for consensus. He partly referred to the tripartite tradition, according to which social partners and the government together negotiate on a wide range of agreements and legislative developments. For over a year, the peak-level social partners have been in bilateral negotiations regarding a renewal of the collective bargaining system. In February 2015, the dialogue ended in deadlock due to disagreements regarding how to avoid illegal strikes. Negotiations to reform the social dialogue structure are however likely to continue alongside the developments following the parliamentary election in April 2015. The functioning of the labour market will be of highest political importance given the country’s gloomy economic outlook.

In Lithuania, researchers' proposals for a new social dialogue model were put forward in December 2014. They suggest that the current main national tripartite social dialogue institution, the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (LRTT), should be replaced by the National Council. The status of employers' organisations should be defined by legislation, which should also establish representativeness criteria for social partner organisations, regulate relations between work councils and trade unions, and provide better protection to the leaders of trade unions and works councils.

A similar discussion is underway in Malta with a view to strengthening tripartite dialogue. Recommendations have been submitted by a working group set up to propose changes in the structure of Malta's tripartite national institution for social dialogue, the Malta Council for Economic and Social Dialogue (MCESD).  Its key recommendation was that MCESD should have administrative and financial autonomy. The Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties or his/her representatives might attend meetings on specific matters, but the government should not have overriding power over any aspect of MCESD's operations. The working group suggested that MCESD should move away from the Ministry so as to be able to assert its independence. The working group recommended restructuring on three levels:

  • a working group where the members can express their ideas;
  • the bureau level, where these ideas are analysed and discussed with the help of experts commissioned by MCESD;
  • plenary level.

In Poland, the future of tripartite social dialogue is being debated against a background of difficult relations between the social partners, which has stalled social dialogue in recent times. Three national trade union organisations have maintained their boycott of the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs (TK) since they left it in mid-2013, but there are signs that the deadlock might end. In early October 2014, a working group of legal experts representing all seven national social partner organisations (three trade union organisations and four employers' organisations) met for the first time to discuss the concepts of a new institutional and legal basis for tripartite social dialogue. The team was set up to prepare a joint proposal for new legislation on behalf of all seven organisations. The team continued to meet regularly throughout the fourth quarter of 2014. In mid-December, a joint position worked out by the trade unions was handed over to the employers' side for review and, subsequently, completion of the final proposal.

In Romania, the Law 62/2011 on social dialogue reformed the Economic and Social Council (CES), removing government influence and integrating representatives of civil society with employers' and union representatives. Law 248/2013 widened the Council's representativeness and competences. Now, further amendments are under discussion and awaiting the approval of the Romanian Parliament. The aim of these is to unlock social dialogue at sectoral level and revive tripartite dialogue through the National Tripartite Committee for Social Dialogue.  Another aim is to enforce dialogue within the CES with third parties representing civic society (similar to that in the European Economic and Social Committee). 

Strengthening bipartism

On 3 October 2014, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (SN) and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) made a joint declaration to mark the opening of negotiations about how the Swedish model of social dialogue might be revised (in Swedish). The current model regulates the labour market through agreements between the trade unions and employers' organisations rather than through legislation. The strongest statement in the joint declaration is that social partners – and not politicians – should continue to be the key actors in regulating working conditions in the Swedish labour market. Discussions between SN and LO started in autumn 2014 and have included issues such as precarious employment, the adaptability of companies and capacity-building for employees. The aim is to sustain Sweden’s competitiveness in the global market through a strengthened bipartite model. The Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) has also been a strong defender of the Swedish model, illustrated for example in a video highlighting the benefits of a bipartite approach.

At the same time, in France, reform of the funding of social dialogue is underway. The Law of 5 March 2014 foresees the creation of a new fund to support trade unions and employers’ organisations (in French) for 'their role in the management of bipartite bodies (paritarism) and their participation in the design of public policy'. The money will come from both private companies (0.016% of payroll costs) and the state, but allocations to organisations will be based on membership numbers. A decree of 31 January 2015 specified how the fund would work. It will replace two current types of funding:

  • the mechanism set up in bipartite bodies (particularly those in charge of management of vocational training funds) that pays subsidies to the social partners;
  • subsidies paid by the government for the training of trade unionists.

This arrangement is intended to end the lack of transparency in the social partners' funding channels.

Company-level social dialogue

Also in France, a policy paper published by the Minister of Labour invited the social partners to initiate negotiations at interprofessional level on the quality and effectiveness of social dialogue in companies and improving worker representation (in French, 465 KB PDF). Priorities are to:

  • find specific forms of employee representation in small enterprises;
  • streamline the various obligations surrounding collective bargaining;
  • simplify the structure of the various staff representative bodies.

Since October 2014, several negotiation meetings have discussed the merger of employee representative bodies, the representation of workers in very small enterprises, and the role of trade unions in companies. In December, the social partners failed to reach an agreement and decided to hold an additional meeting in January 2015, although the government had said it would introduce its own legislation if no agreement was reached by the end of 2014. One of the main problems is the representation of employees in companies with fewer than 50 employees. Representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) refuse to create a new level of information and consultation body at sectoral or regional level that would allow these employees to be represented.

On 22 January 2015, the social partners announced that their negotiations over the reform of social dialogue in companies had failed. In a statement, the government said it intended to open talks with the social partners (in French) to determine whether there was a need for legislation on the issue.

Representativeness of unions at company level

Social dialogue reform is underway in Luxembourg. Proposed legislation would introduce the German model of industrial relations, with a single information and consultation body in enterprises. The new bill was discussed by the Parliamentary Committee for Labour, Work and Social Security in October and November 2014. The bill gives more power to the union with a majority of the votes in workplace elections. In effect this would give more power to the Luxembourg Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (OGB-L), and less to the Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (LCGB). The bill is awaiting the Parliament’s vote in a plenary session, which will probably take place in 2015.

In Croatia, a new Law on Representation (Official Gazette 93/14) defines the representativeness criteria for conclusion of collective agreements. If only one trade union represents an organisation's employees, then this union is the representative union for collective bargaining, regardless of the number of union members or the proportion who have union membership. If more than one union represents the employees at an organisation, then the representative union or unions are those to which all unions operated by the employer have agreed. The new law stipulates that a collective agreement is valid only if it is signed by the representative trade union(s) that represent(s) at least 50% of the members of the representative union or unions. The agreement on representativeness has to specify the number of members of each representative trade union. The Commission for Determining Representativeness will step in if agreement on representativeness cannot be reached.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s Network of National Correspondents. Further resources on developments in collective employment relations can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Industrial Relations Dictionary and European Company Survey (ECS).

For further information, contact: Christine Aumayr-Pintar:

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