Social dialogue in the candidate countries

Social dialogue and EMU in Cyprus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia - Workshop

Vienna, 26-28 May 2003

Speech abstract - Christian Welz, Timo Kauppinen
Research managers, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Industrial relations in the candidate countries: some elements of comparison

1. Levels of collective bargaining

In most of the ten candidate countries, the system of industrial relations is very decentralised. Wage negotiations take place mainly at company level. Only in the public sector do negotiations take place at sectoral level and in this sector also the rate of unionisation is quite high. Slovenia is the only country where the social partners negotiate at intersectoral level. However, a special feature to that country is that there are no sectoral level negotiations. In Slovakia and Cyprus, the main level of collective bargaining is sectoral. The remaining seven candidates countries agree wages at company level.

2. Social partners’ density, representativity and collective bargaining coverage

Unionisation rates in the candidate countries are at quite a low level, with only one third of employees beloning to a union. The strongest unions are found in the public sector, especially among teachers and nurses. In the newly created companies, the unionisation quota is at a very low level. In Estonia, for excample, only 1-2% of employees working in newly set-up companies are unionised. The lowest unionisation rates are found in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, where less than one fifth of employees are unionised. The highest figures, about 60-70%, are in Malta and Cyprus. Unionisation rates in the candidate countries are on average about 10% lower than the situation in the current Member States.

The low unionisation level is also reflected in the coverage of collective agreements in the candidate countries. The low level of unionisation in the candidate countries, seems – at first sight – to be related to the low level of collective agreement coverage. In Slovenia, collective agreements are extended by legislation also to cover non-unionised employees.

Comparative information about the organisation rate of employers is lacking, but first analyses show that employer organisations are numerous, disparate and lacking influence and impact. Employer organisation unions are more inclined to lobby the governments than to negotiate collective agreements. This low level of union activity on the trade unions' and employers' side is one of the reasons why it is not easy to establish a well-functioning national level social dialogue in the candidate countries.

3. Preliminary conclusions

  1. Diverse nature of trade union and employer organisations
    • weak employer organisations
    • multiple employer organisations
    • less likely to have a collective bargaining role
  2. Low trade union density
    • low unionisation rates, especially in newly founded private companies
    • still quite high, but falling unionisation rates in the public sector
  3. Limited scope of collective bargaining
    • collective bargaining systems decentralised (company level)
    • less emphasis on intersectoral level
    • low level of collective bargaining coverage
  4. Widespread absence of works councils
    • except for: Czech Republic, Hungary (+) , Slovenia (+), Slovakia, Poland (public enterprises)
    • voluntary EWCs in some CC (1/5 of multi-national companies in CC)
    • EWC transposed in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
  5. Low level social dialogue in the public sector
  6. Board-level representation is not a very common practice (except for: Hungary, Malta, Poland Slovenia)
  7. Tripartism
    • asymmetrical structures – strong governments in contrast to weak social partners
    • sometimes adverse government interventions
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