EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Cross-border trade union cooperation

Cross-border trade union cooperation refers to unilateral forms of cooperation among trade unions in more than one country. It is a precondition for bilateral cross-border social dialogue with employers and their organisations. There are different forms of cross-border trade union cooperation, which may involve national confederations, sectoral federations, regional trade union structures or local unions.

The Commission’s Communication of 18 September 1996, concerning the development of social dialogue at Community level, emphasised the growing need to support the development of new levels of dialogue and referred specifically to social dialogue in transnational enterprises and at regional level, particularly in cross-border regions.

Article 24 of the Constitution of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) provides a specific structure for trade union cooperation in cross-border regions, namely the Interregional Trade Union Councils (IRTUCs), which bring together the regional organisations of national confederations affiliated to the ETUC. There are 45 IRTUCs, ranging from the northern tip of Sweden to southern Spain, from Ireland in the west to Hungary in the east.

An example of cross-border trade union cooperation at regional level is the interregional union council for the Southern Baltic Sea area (Interregionaler Gewerkschaftsrat Südliche Ostsee), established in August 1998 by the regional organisations of the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) for Nordmark and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisation i Sverige, LO). The interregional council aims to agree on ‘social and ecological minimum standards as well as developing joint policy goals’ for the area, which has developed into an ‘inland sea’ within the European economic area. The priorities for action concern the free movement of workers and the cross-border EURES (European Employment Services), employment policy and the structural funds as well as social dialogue.

Perhaps the best-known example involves the transnational coordination by Belgian, Dutch, German and Luxembourg trade unions of their collective bargaining policies in order to prevent possible downward competition on wages and working conditions. A joint declaration followed a meeting on 4–5 September 1998 of trade union leaders from the four countries in the Dutch town of Doorn (hence the group is known as the Doorn group), which stated the strong need for close cross-border coordination of collective bargaining under EU Economic and Monetary Union.

Cross-border cooperation between trade unions extends to non-EU countries. At sectoral level, for example, the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF) is enlarging its member structure to all metalworkers’ trade unions within the EU28 and candidate countries and countries with associate EU status with a view to handling cross-border trade union cooperation and activities more efficiently, not only in the coordination of collective bargaining, but also in the areas of industrial policy, social dialogue and company policy.

With regard to cross-border trade union cooperation at company level, the most advanced experience so far concerns the coordination approach pursued by the EMF, which is based on two sets of guidelines adopted by the EMF in order to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly frequent transnational context and implications of company-level restructuring since the beginning of the 2000s. The first set is the EMF policy approach towards socially responsible company restructuring, whose main objectives are to provide for the complete transparency of information and to ensure that trade unions stay involved at all stages of the negotiation process in order to avoid a situation where management starts separate negotiations in individual countries in an attempt to play off workforces from different countries. The second set of binding guidelines is the Internal EMF procedures for negotiations at multinational company level, which was adopted in response to the increased negotiation activities of EWCs in the absence of a legal framework ensuring the national implementation of European framework agreements concluded at company level. These procedures are meant to guarantee close cooperation between the EMF and the involved national trade union structures in all phases of the negotiation process.

See also: EU system of industrial relations; sectoral coordination of collective bargaining; transnational industrial action; tripartite concertation.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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