EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

European collective agreements

At national level, collective agreements are agreements concluded between single employers or their organisations on the one hand, and organisations of workers such as trade unions on the other. These agreements establish the content of individual contracts of employment and regulate relationships between the parties. European collective agreements, the product of European social dialogue, take a range of different forms at different levels.


European framework agreements are agreements between the European social partners, either at cross-sector or sector level.

Cross-sector framework agreements are based on Article 155 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This states that the dialogue between the European social partners ‘may lead to contractual relations, including agreements’. The cross-sector social dialogue is carried out by the EU-level social partners (ETUC, BUSINESSEUROPE, CEEP, European Association of Craft, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (UEAPME), and Eurocadres (the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff) and the European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff (CEC). The CEC participate in the dialogue as part of the ETUC delegation.

This dialogue can lead to a framework agreement which is subsequently given legal force by means of a Directive, under Article 155(2) TFEU. Examples of this type of agreement include the agreements on parental leave in 1995 and revised in 2009, part-time work in 1997, and fixed-term work in 1999. However, dialogue between these social partners may also lead to an autonomous agreement which is not covered by the procedures provided for by Article 155 TFEU. Examples of this type of agreement include those on telework in 2002, stress at work in 2004, and on harassment and violence at work in 2007.

European sectoral agreements are concluded between social partners organised on a sectoral basis at European level by means of sectoral social dialogue committees. Examples of sectoral agreements include the agreements on working time arrangements reached in different sectors of the transport industry. In 2008, for instance, an agreement on working conditions in the maritime sector incorporated certain provisions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention in 2006 into union law.

Other examples include the 2010 framework agreement on the prevention from sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector concluded by the European Hospital and Healthcare Employers’ Association (HOSPEEM) and the European Federation of Public Service Union (EPSU), a 2012 agreement on working conditions in the fisheries sector, and a 2012 agreement on health and safety for workers in the hairdressing sector.

The European Commission issued a working document in July 2010 on the progress and functioning of the European sectoral social dialogue. In 2012 there were a total of 41 sectoral social dialogue committees covering more than 150 million workers around the EU.

In addition, multi-sector agreements are negotiated and signed by the European social partners representing several sectors. Examples include the multi-sector agreement on workers’ health protection through the good handling and use of crystalline silica and products containing it.

A transnational company agreement is, according to the European Commission in its 2012 Staff Working Document (84Kb PDF): agreement comprising reciprocal commitments the scope of which extends to the territory of several States and which has been concluded by one or more representatives of a company or a group of companies on the one hand, and one or more workers’ organisations on the other hand, and which covers working and employment conditions and/or relations between employers and workers or their representatives.

According to the 2009 Eurofound report European and international framework agreements: Practical experiences and strategic approaches (1.3Mb PDF), TCAs can be subdivided into International Framework Agreements (IFAs) and European Framework Agreements (EFAs): IFAs are signed by Global Union Federations (GUFs) and have a global scope of application, whereas European Framework Agreements (EFAs) have a regional (European) scope of application and are signed by European Industry Federations (EIFs), EWCs and/or national unions and central management.

The Commission notes that transnational company agreements have grown in significance over the past decade since the first initiatives in 2000. By early 2012, 224 such agreements had been recorded in 144 companies, mostly with headquarters in Europe, covering over 10 million employees.

The Commission set up a database consisting of transnational company agreements – it contains information sheets with details on every company and agreement.

European Works Councils (EWCs) agreements are the third type of collective agreement. They are concluded by EWCs, standing bodies providing for the information and consultation of employees in community-scale undertakings and community-scale groups of undertakings as required by the 1994 European Works Council Directive (Directive94/45/EC), now updated by the recast Directive (2009/38/EC). The latest data from the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) database show that, as at 2012, a total of 1,214 EWCs had been created. However, it should be noted that some multinational companies have installed EWCs at a division level. This means the total number of EWCs is larger than the number of multinational companies that have a EWC. Currently, 931 multinational companies have an active EWC.

Finally, there are agreements on employee involvement in a European Company, also known as a Societas Europaea (SE). SEs are governed by EC law directly applicable in the Member States, rather than by national law. This was established by the European Company Statute (ECS) Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) 2157/2001 on the statute for a European company (SE)). It is estimated that as by June 2012 there were 78 agreements providing for employee involvement within SEs.

See also: Agreement on Social Policy; Collective bargaining; Competition law and collective agreements; EU system of industrial relations; European social dialogue and implementation of agreements; European social model; Horizontal subsidiarity; International Framework Agreement; Social dialogue.


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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