UNICE welcomes Commission Communication on social dialogue

In November 1998, UNICE, the European employers' organisation, issued a generally positive response to the May 1998 Commission Communication on adapting and promoting the social dialogue at Community level. The UNICE paper emphasises that the decision whether or not to set up sectoral social dialogue committees should remain voluntary, and regrets the decision not to extend the deadlines for consultations under the Maastricht social policy Agreement on a case-by-case basis.

On 13 November 1998, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) adopted its position paper on the European Commission Communication on Adapting and promoting the social dialogue at Community level, issued in May 1998 (EU9806110F) While UNICE expresses support for the general objectives set out in the Communication, it regrets the Commission's decision to "adopt in great haste its proposal for a decision on sectoral social dialogue committees, replacing replacing all previous sectoral dialogue structures", and to submit its proposal for a Council Decision reforming theStanding Committee on Employment before the social partners had an opportunity to express their views.

UNICE welcomes the fact that the Commission underlines the autonomy of the social partners in developing their own structures with the participants of their choosing. It also supports the statement which indicates to UNICE that the Commission will continue to use the criteria for assessing the representativeness of social partner organisations initially proposed by UNICE, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) in their joint opinion of 29 October 1993. However, UNICE regrets the weakening of these criteria perceived to be implied in the new rules on the establishment of the sectoral social dialogue committees, where participants are now to be required to be representative only in "several", rather than all Member States.

UNICE calls for the exchange of information between the social partners and the Commission on specific issues to be essentially limited to the social partners concerned by the issue in question, rather than involving representatives of both cross-industry and sectoral organisations at EU level.

In relation to the proposals made on the operation and rationalisation of the work of the cross-industry advisory committees (on free movement, health and safety and so on), UNICE welcomes measures intended to avoid duplication, but argues that the envisaged alignment of the work of these committees with general social dialogue developments would be counterproductive. The consultations within the committees and in the social dialogue are seen to be of a fundamentally different nature and should therefore be kept separate in order to avoid confusion.

In relation to social partner consultations under Article 3 of the Maastricht social policy Agreement, UNICE expresses its regret at what it regards as the Commission's failure to follow up its intention to reconsider the deadlines for consultations. These deadlines are viewed by UNICE as being too tight and are seen to inhibit genuine consultation of the social partners by the Commission.

UNICE expresses concern at some elements of the new proposals for the sectoral social dialogue. It is argued that the decision whether or not to set up a sectoral committee must be entirely voluntary, and failure to do so should not deprive the social partners of their rights to be consulted.

UNICE welcomes the opportunity to enter into tripartite discussions within the Employment and Labour Market Committee (EU9702105N) and the Standing Committee on Employment, but argues that these must be clearly distinguished from consultations within the context of the social dialogue.

Finally, the enlargement of the European Union is perceived to provide significant opportunities, but also poses challenges. The Commission is therefore called upon to support social partner organisations in the accession states to develop a social dialogue (EU9808123F).

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