Commission issues 2002 industrial relations in Europe report

In late October 2002, the European Commission issued its Industrial Relations in Europe 2002 report. The report details major developments in European labour relations during 2000 and 2001 and, for the first time, includes a section on the countries applying to join the EU.

The European Commission issued its Industrial Relations in Europe 2002 report on 29 October 2002. This follows on from its previous publication, Industrial Relations in Europe 2000, issued in March 2000. The 2002 report is divided into three main sections:

  • principal advances in labour relations in Europe;
  • the structure of the 'players' in the social dialogue; and
  • industrial relations in the candidate countries.

Principal advances in labour relations in Europe

Involvement of the social partners

The report looks firstly at the role of the social partners in the development of European social policy over the past two years. It notes that 'the role of the social partners is a key feature of the European social model, which combines a number of values – responsibility, solidarity and participation. All aspects of the social dialogue – from consultation to negotiation – help to make the decision-making procedure more effective and enhance good European governance.'

The document looks at the social partners’ participation in the range of European Council summits focusing on economic and social issues which have taken place over the past two years, in addition to examining the social dialogue at cross-industry and industry level. Specific subjects reviewed include anticipating change, lifelong learning, the European employment strategy, fundamental rights, equal opportunities, social protection and health and safety.

The report devotes a special section to the social partners’ contributions to the EU enlargement process, listing the seminars and other initiatives which have taken place in this area in recent years.

Review of legislation

The report lists all the main pieces of legislation to have been formulated in the social policy field during 2000 and 2001. It also gives a list of the state of play regarding transposition of Community legislation in individual Member States.

Extension of collective agreements

This section details the mechanisms by which collective agreements may be extended to cover parties which were originally non-signatories, or their members. It looks at both legislative and voluntary mechanisms and provides a detailed overview of the situation in individual Member States.

The section concludes by stating that extension mechanisms represent very different situations from one Member State to another: 'This diversity is expressed in the forms that they may adopt, the gaps in coverage they are intending to fill and the social practices in each country.'

Structure of the players in the social dialogue

In this section, the report concentrates on the social partners at the European sectoral level. It gives a detailed overview of the characteristics of eight individual sectors. This includes an examination of the economic and employment situation of the sector, and a look at issues such as trade union density and the characteristics of the main trade unions and employers’ organisations. It details any EU-level joint texts which have been signed in these sectors.

The sectors examined in this section are:

  • banking;
  • insurance;
  • land transport;
  • water transport;
  • air transport;
  • commerce;
  • construction; and
  • textiles and clothing.

Industrial relations in the candidate countries

The final section of the report is dedicated to an examination of industrial relations in the countries which are applying to join the European Union (TN0207104F). It states that the general aim of the chapter is to 'give a general overview of the social dialogue in candidate countries. Looking forward to the enlargement of the EU, it is important to have a first assessment of social partners in the candidate countries, of the current state of the consultation process in which they are involved, as well as autonomous social dialogue and collective bargaining at more decentralised levels.'

This section looks firstly at the economic and employment situation in the individual countries concerned: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey.

The basic features of industrial relations in these countries are then described, including the organisation and role of the social partners, all of which are listed. The representativeness of the social partners as well as membership levels of trade unions and employers’ organisations are analysed.

Further, all major disputes since 1990 in each country are listed, along with the legal provisions governing disputes in each country.

A part of the section is devoted to tripartism in each country, with a list of national tripartite organisations produced, in addition to a list of tripartite agreements. The report notes that tripartism in the candidate countries has been helpful in preventing major conflicts during the economically uncertain times of the past decade. However, it adds that the functioning of tripartite institutions has been, in most countries, directly reliant on the 'willingness of the governments to really make them work.'

The report also notes that autonomous social dialogue and free collective bargaining are 'poorly developed' in many of the candidate countries. It suggests that the social partners focus their efforts on developing collective bargaining between trade unions and employers’ organisations at all levels, maintaining that 'intermediary levels of social dialogue represent essential elements to develop a coherent system of industrial relations and ensure a bridge between the decisions taken at national level, also within tripartite fora, and the employers’ decisions at enterprise level.'

In particular, the report describes sectoral social dialogue as 'the missing level', maintaining that there is currently an average of only 10 sectoral agreements in each of almost all 10 central and eastern European countries surveyed. Where there are sectoral agreement, they tend to be very general and merely to reproduce the possibilities offered by the law.

This section also examines enterprise-level bargaining and participation in the candidate countries.

Commentary

This report makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of European industrial relations. It charts all the major developments, in terms of social dialogue and the development of legislation, over the past two years. It also gives a comprehensive history and explanation of mechanisms such as the social dialogue process and the main actors involved in European industrial relations at all levels.

The sectoral studies are useful portraits of some of the key sectors of the European economy, giving a flavour of the diversity which characterises European industry.

Finally, the detailed overview of the situation in the candidate countries is invaluable in improving understanding of how legislative and social dialogue processes work in these countries. Although many have a long way to go in social dialogue terms, it is clear that much progress has been made, linked to economic transformation, in recent years. (Andrea Broughton, IRS).

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