EU-level social partners issue work programme for 2003-5

At a social dialogue summit held on 28 November 2002, the central European-level social partners - UNICE/UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC - presented a joint work programme for the coming three years. The programme focuses on employment, enlargement and mobility, setting out a range of autonomous actions which the social partners intend to take by the end of 2005.

Representatives of the central EU-level social partner organisations − the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE)/European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) − held an intersectoral social dialogue summit in Brussels on 28 November 2002. The highlight of the summit was the launch of a three-year work programme for 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Background

The idea of drawing up a joint programme of autonomous work was first made public by the social partners in a joint statement issued to the Laeken European Council in December 2001 (EU0201231N). In this statement, ETUC, UNICE/UEAPME and CEEP stated that they wanted to 'reposition the role of the social partners' and develop an autonomous social dialogue process which is not dependent on consultations from the European Commission. They envisaged that the joint work programme would be made up of a 'spectrum of diversified instruments such as European framework agreements, opinions, recommendations, statements, exchanges of experience, awareness-raising campaigns and open debates'.

The Commission encouraged this vision in its Communication on the future of the social dialogue, issued in June 2002 (EU0208203F), in which it stated that it would like to see the social dialogue process strengthened and improved.

Main elements of the work programme

The social partners worked on the development of a joint programme throughout 2002, and duly launched it at the November 2002 social dialogue summit. The work programme is divided into three sections:

  • employment;
  • enlargement; and
  • mobility.

In launching the programme, the social partners maintained in a joint statement that it marks a significant departure from previous practice, which consisted of deciding on a case-by-case basis whether or not to deal with a specific issue in the social dialogue and whether or not to deal with an issue jointly and by what means (joint opinion, agreement or another instrument).

Employment

Most of the actions which are likely to generate future agreements or joint opinions are contained in the first section of the work programme, which has the general heading of employment. The main actions are as follows:

  • a seminar will be organised in 2003 with a view to negotiating a voluntary agreement on stress at work. This reflects increasing concern with this topic - for instance, a European week on stress at work was held in October 2002 (EU0211201N), bringing together a range of actions around the EU, aimed at highlighting the problem;
  • a seminar will be organised in 2004-5 in order to explore the possibility of negotiating a voluntary agreement on harassment. This is currently a high-profile issue in Europe, with, for example, the European Parliament adopting a resolution on bullying in September 2001 (EU0110204N);
  • a seminar will be organised in 2004 to discuss case studies and explore possible joint actions relating to the ageing workforce;
  • a seminar on the topic of undeclared work is to be organised in 2005, with the aim of concluding a joint opinion on this theme;
  • the social partners will, in 2004 and with the participation of the candidate countries, update their 1995 joint declaration on racism (TN9706201S);
  • the social partners will organise in 2003 a seminar on equal opportunities and gender discrimination with the aim of deciding on a 'framework of actions';
  • a joint declaration and/or an awareness-raising campaign will be organised over the course of the work programme to promote young people’s interest in science and technology in order to address the 'skills gap';
  • work will be carried out in the area of corporate restructuring in 2003 − the social partners will 'identify orientations' which could assist in managing change and its social consequences, on the basis of real cases. This follows a formal consultation of the social partners by the Commission in January 2002 on the issue of managing change (EU0201235F). The social partners had asked the Commission to suspend the second consultation to allow them to hold a seminar on this issue in October 2002; and
  • monitoring and follow-up actions to recent agreements will take place in the areas of lifelong learning ('framework of actions ' of February 2002 - EU0204210F) and telework (agreement of July 2002 – EU0207204F).

Enlargement

This is a smaller section which details work related to the forthcoming enlargement of the EU. The highlights are as follows:

  • a series of joint seminars will be held on industrial relations in the context of enlargement, including case studies on different ways of articulating different levels of negotiations;
  • two enlarged social dialogue committee meetings will be held each year throughout the duration of the programme;
  • under the heading of the implementation of the legal 'acquis communautaire' (the body of EU law and regulations which must be transposed nationally before a country may join the EU), a joint seminar will be held on European Works Councils in 2004;
  • a study will be conducted on restructuring in the candidate countries and the inclusion of the candidate countries in follow-up actions in the area of lifelong learning (see above), and a seminar will be held in 2004; and
  • the social partners will, from 2004 onwards, try to identify issues that will arise in the EU after enlargement. These could include topics such as an increase in diversity, migration and cross-border working.

Mobility

This is the final section of the work programme and also the briefest. The one area identified in this section is the Commission’s action plan on skills and mobility, launched in February 2002 (EU0203204F). The social partners intend, at some point during the course of this work programme, to organise a seminar to identify where joint actions by the social partners at EU level could help in addressing obstacles to mobility, particularly for managerial staff. These could include supplementary pensions.

Commentary

This work programme has been generally welcomed and seen by all involved parties as a new departure for the social partners. In a joint press statement, ETUC, UNICE/UEAPME and CEEP stated that: 'The new work method shows that, following 17 years of experience, the European social dialogue has matured and is moving into a more autonomous phase.'

The employment and social affairs Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou, told the social partners that: 'Your work programme heralds a new period in a social dialogue which is coming into its own. It brings in genuine European-level industrial relations. The Commission is pleased by this step forward.'

The Commission President, Romano Prodi, added that: 'The social partners have today started a new page in the social dialogue, which has thus entered a new phase. Their joint work programme gives their dialogue fresh momentum to rise to the current challenges of the European Union, to make a positive contribution to the Lisbon strategy and to integrate the perspective of enlargement.'

This new three-year work programme is an important step in the development of the European-level social dialogue. After some years of reacting to the consultations of the Commission on a range of issues, a phase which has produced notable results in the form of European-level intersectoral and sectoral agreements, the social partners will now act in a more autonomous manner, looking at issues which they believe to be of importance. Thus, the coming three years will see a renewed phase of activity which is likely to result in a number of joint actions and intensified research in a range of areas. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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