An autonomous agreement is an agreement signed by the European social partners at cross-sector or sector level. At cross-sector level, the social partners are ETUC, BUSINEESSEUROPE, CEEP and UEAPME and the agreement is negotiated either on the basis of a Commission consultation to the social partners under Article 154 TFEU or on a topic of their choosing. Article 155 TFEU provides two options for the implementation of agreements concluded by the EU-level social partners under Article 154. The first option is implementation in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour and the Member States. The second option is to request a Council of Ministers decision, following a proposal by the Commission. If the agreement is implemented in accordance with the first option, it is considered to be an autonomous agreement.
There have been four autonomous agreements concluded at cross-sector level so far: on telework in 2002, stress at work in 2004, harassment and violence at work in 2007, and inclusive labour markets in 2010. In these cases, the social partners established a general framework at EU level obliging their affiliated organisations to implement the agreement in accordance with the national procedures and practices specific to management and labour and the Member States. These agreements had previously been described as ‘voluntary’ agreements, but with the coming into effect of the work programme 2006-2008, the European social partners changed the terminology for this kind of accord to ‘autonomous’ agreements
For details of the framework agreements that the cross-sector European social partners have concluded that have been ratified by the Council of Ministers and now form part of European legislation (on parental leave, part-time work and fixed-term work), see framework agreements.
The agreement on the regulation of telework was a landmark agreement, as it was the first agreement to be implemented by means of procedures and practices specific to management and labour and the Member States, rather than Council decision. Two consultations of the European social partners by the European Commission based on Article 138 of the EC Treaty (now 154 TFEU) took place, and after eight months of negotiations, an agreement was formally signed in July 2002. The agreement includes a definition of telework and regulates employment conditions for teleworkers, health and safety, training and collective rights.
The stress at work agreement had its origins in a social partner consultation launched by the European Commission on stress and its effects on health and safety at work under Article 138 of the EC Treaty (now 154 TFEU) in 2002. The European level social partners had also included the issue of work-related stress in their first work programme 2003-2005. In October 2004, they signed an autonomous agreement on work-related stress. The agreement defines work-related stress and gives some guidance on measures to prevent, eliminate or reduce problems of work-related stress.
In 2005, the European Commission launched a consultation of the social partners concerning violence at the workplace, including bullying and its effects on health and safety at work. The consultation referred to the joint work programme 2003-2005 in which the social partners had announced they would discuss the possibility of negotiating a voluntary agreement in this area.. In February 2006, the social partners started negotiations on harassment and violence and eventually concluded an agreement in April 2007. This commits the parties to combat all unacceptable behaviour that can lead to harassment and violence at the workplace.
In the work programme of the European social partners for 2009-2010, the social partners declared their intention to negotiate and implement an autonomous framework agreement for the better integration of disadvantaged groups in the labour market through measures/initiatives to facilitate access to and progression in the labour market. This autonomous agreement on inclusive labour markets was signed in 2010, setting out the main obstacles to the development of an inclusive labour market, making a commitment to undertake actions to overcome these obstacles, and urging public employment services and other actors to develop a range of initiatives.
Autonomous agreements have also been concluded at the sectoral level (such as the 2004 agreement on the European licence for drivers carrying out a cross-border interoperability service) and multi-sectoral level (such as the 2006 agreement on Workers’ Health Protection through the Good Handling and Use of Crystalline Silica and Products containing it).