The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is recognised by the European Union, by the Council of Europe and by EFTA as the only representative cross-sectoral trade union organisation at European level. ETUC, established in 1973, currently includes in its membership 83 national trade union confederations from a total of 36 European countries, as well as 12 European industry federations, amounting to a total of 60 million members. It also has observer organisations in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Other trade union structures operate under the auspices of ETUC: Eurocadres (the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff) and EFREP/FERPA (the European Federation of Retired and Elderly Persons). In addition, ETUC coordinates the activities of the 44 IRTUCs (Interregional Trade Union Councils), which organise cross-border trade union cooperation. In 1999, a Balkans Forum was created, bringing together all the unions of that region.

In practice, ETUC seeks to influence the EU’s legislation and policies by making direct representations to the various institutions, and engaging in extensive consultation with European authorities. ETUC also seeks to establish industrial relations with employers at EU level through European social dialogue, including sectoral social dialogue. To support its claims, ETUC can call upon its affiliates to take action.

ETUC determines its policies through the deliberations of its Congress and its Executive Committee. The Congress meets once every four years. It elects the President, the General Secretary and the two Deputy General Secretaries. The President’s role is to chair ETUC’s governing bodies. The General Secretary is the head and the spokesperson of the Confederation. The ETUC Congress most recently met in Athens in May 2011, where it adopted a manifesto of actions (The Athens Manifesto) for 2011-2014, based on a strategy that centres on growth based on employment and social provisions, rather than the austerity policies adopted by EU Member States in response to the crisis.

The Executive Committee, which meets four times a year, consists of representatives of the affiliated national confederations, the affiliated European Industry Federations and the ETUC Women’s Committee. The Coordinating Committee of the Inter-regional Trade Union Council and the ETUC Youth Committee are entitled to a delegation with speaking rights. The President, the General Secretary and the two Deputy General Secretaries are ex officio members. Decisions can be taken by a qualified two-thirds majority vote. There are also three observer organisations without a right to vote. The Steering Committee, a smaller body, is responsible for following up the decisions of the Executive Committee between its sessions.

ETUC’s Executive Committee decides on the mandate and the composition of the delegations, which negotiate with the European employer associations, and assesses the results. ETUC’s negotiating mandate is prepared in consultation with the national trade union confederations and the European industry federations. The mandate for negotiations with European employer organisations and the adoption of a draft agreement must have the support of at least two-thirds of the organisations directly concerned.

In the areas of social research, trade union training and health and safety at the workplace, ETUC set up special structures, run by their own administrative bodies and benefiting from the EU’s financial support. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) was the study and research centre of ETUC in the socio-economic field and for industrial relations. The Trade Union Technical Bureau (TUTB) undertook support and expert appraisal missions for ETUC in the fields of health and safety and the working environment as well as in the context of European standardisation. The European Trade Union College (ETUCO) was ETUC’s training body: its tasks were to provide support for the trade union training activities undertaken by the member organisations, and to hold training courses at European level. In April 2005, all these structures were merged into a single body, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) which is responsible for all the areas and tasks.

The Social Development Agency (SDA) is a non-profitmaking organisation set up in May 2004 and supported by the ETUC. It aims to promote Europe’s social dimension in a global context. The SDA works to extend international social dialogue, carry out specific projects on social issues and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, and to advise European Works Councils and workers’ representatives in European Companies. The SDA also manages ETUC Infopoint, the ETUC’s central information resource, which is one of its key projects.

See also: coordination of collective bargaining; European social partners; EU system of industrial relations; framework agreements; freedom of association; joint opinions; management and labour; representativeness; trade unions; tripartite concertation.

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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