Social dialogue in the candidate countries

Social dialogue and EMU in the Candidate Countries Workshop

Vienna, 22-24 May 2002

Speech abstract - Reiner Hoffman
Director, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)

EMU and social dialogue: an employers’ federation perspective

The need for social regulation

The European Union can boast significant progress in the last few years. Nonetheless, the Union will not be able to achieve its objectives for employment and social progress unless it moves beyond the single market and EMU to build a real Social Union, as ETUC demands.

If, in the past, the question of social regulation was posed essentially at national level, the deepening of economic and monetary integration explains more and more each day the need for European social regulation.

The construction of such a system of industrial relations must be founded on practical needs, national experiences and that of a European Social Dialogue, in order to complete the content of the Social Policy Agreement now integrated in the Treaty.

Strengthening social dialogue

In the framework of European integration, the social dialogue is able to look back over a long tradition. This is particularly true if one considers the substantial contribution made in the framework of the ECSC Treaty in dealing in a socially acceptable manner with the effects of the fundamental restructuring of the coal and steel industries. With the adoption of the Single European Act, encouragement of social dialogue became an official task of the European Commission. It was already foreseen at the time that this could lead to the development of negotiations at European level.

The Social Partners' Agreement of October 1991 led to the Social Policy Agreement and the Maastricht protocol on social policy, which was subsequently incorporated into the Amsterdam Treaty. In this way, significant progress was achieved, a notable aspect of which was a strengthening of the role of the social partners in the decision-making process.

Social dialogue and employment

The trade unions, have, time and again in the context of collective bargaining, made real contributions and enlarged their fields of negotiation to the preservation of jobs and the creation of new ones.

In addition, there are several instances in the Member States of tripartite negotiations leading to the conclusion of employment pacts, which have made a significant contribution to improving the economic performance of the countries concerned.

Co-ordinated collective bargaining policy

The paramount goal of a co-ordinated collective bargaining policy is to guarantee workers a fair share of income, to promote employment and to improve living and working conditions. Promoting real growth, taking into account productivity levels and ensuring that they contribute to real wage increases and social regulation, is particularly important to counter the danger of social dumping within the European Monetary Union. In addition, further discussion is required to devise a European solidarity pay policy intended to counter the growing income inequality that in some countries is quite substantial. This would contribute to a reduction in disparities in living conditions and to effective implementation of the principle of gender equality.

European works councils (EWCs)

European Works Councils are a core feature of the Europeanisation of industrial relations. The forthcoming revision of the EWC Directive must reinforce information and consultation, ensuring that workers' representatives and their trade unions receive full information in good time and in advance of decisions taken, and ensuring the introduction of effective sanctions in the case of infringement of agreements by the company. The possibilities for EWCs to function properly should be strengthened. Their scope should be extended to include workers' representatives from applicant countries to the Union.

Reiner Hoffman is a foreign-trade merchant and has studied economic science at the University of Wuppertal/Germany. He started his professional activities as an economic scientist and as an assistant to the Economic and Social Committee of the EC. He worked for the University – Faculty of Economic science – at Wuppertal. From 1983 he worked for the Hans-Böckler Foundation in Düsseldorf and was Head of the Research promotion department until September 1994. Since then he is the Director of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) in Brussels.

His main research activities covers areas such as: Europeanisation of industrial relations, working time policies and modernisation of trade unions. Since 1995 he is editor of the quarterly 'Transfer – European review of labour and research'. He also edits – together with the General Secretary of the ETUC, Emilio Gabaglio – the European Trade Union Yearbook. In addition, he has edited several books and published a large number of articles.

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