EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

EU system of industrial relations

A system of industrial relations at European level has specific features, which relate to current economic, political and social developments in the EU. These features include European social dialogue, the Europe 2020 Strategy, the European Semester process, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, transnational coordination of collective bargaining, the macroeconomic dialogue and European works councils. Each of these processes and systems contributes to an EU system of collective industrial relations. For example, the EU Charter promotes an EU system of industrial relations by virtue of its including rights of association (Article 12), collective bargaining and collective action (Article 28), information and consultation (Article 27).

In the latter part of the 1990s, European trade unions attempted to coordinate their wage bargaining policies at EU level in order to prevent a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of wages and working conditions within the eurozone. However, these attempts were largely unsuccessful due to factors such as the heterogeneity of national trade union and industrial relations cultures.

In parallel, there has been ongoing debate on industrial relations at EU level for some years. The Commission’s High-Level Group on Industrial Relations, in its report of March 2002, identified six challenges for industrial relations in Europe: globalisation, Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the emergence of the eurozone, EU enlargement, technological change and the knowledge economy, demographic trends, and changes in the labour market.

In recent years, the focus has moved to the trend towards increasing globalisation, the emergence of multinational companies and the response of labour to this. Transnational collective bargaining, which takes place in multinational companies between company management and trade unions represented in the company, also supported by European trade union federations, is seen as one way of developing industrial relations in a pan-European and globalised context.

The EU supports the development of transnational company agreements through exchanges of experience, financial support, monitoring and studies. An expert group was been set up by the Commission with that aim. This group met six times between 2009 and 2011. The Commission also keeps a database of transnational company agreements.

See also: collective bargaining; employee representation; European social model; fundamental rights; information and consultation; solidarity principle; transnational company agreement; tripartite concertation.

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