Conference on tripartism

EU Presidency Conference on Tripartism in an enlarged European Union

Co-organised by the Danish Ministry of Employment and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Hotel Comwell, Elsinore, Denmark
29-30 October 2002

See also conference information from the Danish Ministry of Employment.

Speech abstract - Ionna Rossi
Research Manager, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

New Approaches to Tripartism EIRO - Monitoring developments on tripartism

Industrial relations in most EU countries and Norway has seen considerable stability and continuity during the last five years, but at the same time there have been many signs of innovation and change. The main challenges facing European societies - globalisation, fifth EU enlargement, economic and monetary union, technological change, changing labour markets, and demographic change - did not leave industrial relations unaffected. In particular, these challenges are changing the role and the agenda of the actors involved in industrial relations; new practices have emerged.

My presentation will focus on practices in tripartism, which have developed at various levels - local, national, EU level - in response to the above challenges. Emphasis will be given to indicative areas of the quality of industrial relations and work. The particular cases presented are from the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) as reported by the EIRO National Centres. A short outline of EIRO will follow at the end of this presentation.

The following issues will be highlighted:

Through the following cases, we highlight the role of actors, processes and policies, especially with regard to industrial relations.

1. Competitiveness and innovation with social cohesion

During the 1990s, Europe saw a proliferation of cases in which collective bargaining addressed the issues of competitiveness and social inclusion jointly, in a co-ordinated way. The new tripartite pacts combine the priority concerns of employment and competitiveness, with the social partnership method, thereby uniting three central components of the EU's current economic and social policies. Also, a sort of new "European model" of industrial relations, based on a "partnership for competitiveness" instead of the traditional "distributive conflict" has developed. This happened at national level through "social pacts" or regional and local level through "territorial pacts". Most of the macro-level social pacts reached in EU countries in the 1990s, were concluded under the pressure of unemployment and of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) convergence criteria.

According to EIRO reports, in the 1990s, in 5 countries - Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy and Portugal - we see both social and regional pacts, whilst in Ireland and Luxembourg there are only social pacts, and in Denmark and Austria only regional. In Austria particularly, territorial pacts were being welcomed in the late 1990s as a means of focusing labour market policies on the problem of unemployment. On the other hand, the 5 remaining EU countries - Finland, France, Netherlands, Sweden and UK as well as Norway - have not reported tripartite pacts up to now. We stress here that the "employment pacts" concluded at company or sectoral level between the social partners, are very significant in these particular countries. The role of government in this case is to provide support and encouragement. Below is an example of a social pact and an example of a regional pact.

Programme for Prosperity and Fairness

A characteristic example of a social pact at national level is the current Irish tripartite agreement, the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF), which is the fifth successive national deal since 1987. During this time, the context of social partnership has changed from "managing crisis" to "managing growth and rising expectations".

The PPF determines a maximum wage increase for a period of 33 months (2000-2), while referring to various macroeconomic targets such as low inflation, promoting non-inflationary growth, maintaining the budgetary surplus and improving public investment. Furthermore, the agreement explicitly aims to improve competitiveness of the Irish economy within EMU and to fulfil the criteria of the "European stability pact

Employment Pact for the Italian city of Catania

The employment pact for the Italian city of Catania, in Sicily, was signed by the social partners in February 2001. The economy of Catania is characterised by a major illegal, underground economy, high unemployment and organised crime, which is deeply rooted in the local social productive fabric. Thus, the very high unemployment rate encouraged social partners, representatives of municipal and provincial government, and other local parties (university, NGOs, training organisations, cooperatives, etc.) to sign the unemployment pact.

The agreement aims to encourage the creation of new companies and jobs, and to make precarious employment more stable. In order to achieve their objectives, the partners also intend to promote the integration of training policies into labour market policies and to promote continuous training to facilitate the adaptation of skills and the development of new technologies. Negotiation topics will include issues such as flexible working time and work organisation, where there are productive investments, which can create new jobs. Concertation will be strengthened through the creation of a coordination committee composed of one representative of each signatory.

2. Life-long learning

In the context of the new challenges Europe is facing, lifelong learning has become a key issue in maintaining companies' competitiveness and workers' employability. An increasingly ageing population, in addition to a decline in the number of new labour market entrants, means that it is more important than ever for those currently in work to continue training. The fast pace of technological change and the knowledge society challenge, resulting in organisational changes and new competitive production concepts, require training and upskilling on a regular basis. This becomes even more imperative with the growing interdependence among countries and corporations.

In response to these changes, policies concerned with lifelong learning have been implemented in all Member States in recent years. These policies vary greatly between Member States. It depends, above all, on the characteristics of the industrial relations system of each country. There are also important differences in the education and training systems that influence the configuration of the lifelong learning system and its relation to bargaining. The following case comes from Spain, where lifelong learning is regulated by the Third Tripartite National Continuing Training Agreement.

Spain's Third National Agreement on Continuing Training

This agreement, signed in December 2000, focuses on continuing training plans and individual training leave. It also provides for the extensive involvement of the social partners in managing all levels of the continuing training system. The innovation is in the creation of a tripartite foundation to administer the system.

In June 2001, in fulfilment of this agreement, the Spanish council of Ministers approved the creation of a Tripartite Foundation for Training in Employment. This is in contrast to a model of management that had been established earlier and it was a bipartite model; the Foundation's board was composed of a joint representation of the employers' organisations and trade unions that had signed the agreements. This new body involves not only employers' and employees' organisations but also, the public administration (Directorate-General of the National Institute of Employment- INEM), assisted by a delegate commission responsible for managing the Foundation and composed exclusively of INEM representatives.

The main functions of the Tripartite Foundation for Training in Employment are to:

  • Promote and disseminate continuing training among employers and workers;
  • Process applications for aid under different initiatives;
  • Make a technical assessment of these initiatives;
  • Manage documents and accounts;
  • Send proposals for resolution to the INEM.

The Foundation must also assign resources among the different continuing training initiatives and draw up criteria for the regional distribution of funds.

It should be stressed that the third National Agreement on Continuing Training has introduced significant innovations and marks the consolidation of continuing training in Spain, improving its effectiveness, quality, coherence, transparency and scope.

3. National Action Plans

The National Action Plan process is another interesting example of tripartism. The role and the contribution of the social partners in preparation of the National Action Plans (NAPs) have been progressively emphasized in the employment policy guidelines. In particular, the 2002 guidelines stress that "Member States shall develop a comprehensive partnership with the social partners for the implementation, monitoring and follow up of the European Employment Strategy. The social partners at all levels are invited to step up their action in support of the Luxembourg process." However, this social partner involvement is realised to varying extents in the individual Member States.

EIRO regularly monitors the involvement of employer and employee representative groups in the various aspects of their NAPs. In 2001, the EIRO network assessed satisfaction of social partners with their involvement in drawing up and implementing their country's NAP. Generally speaking, employer representative organisations were on the whole more satisfied with their involvement than employee and trade unions.

In 2002, in response to a request from DG Employment and Social Affairs, the EIRO explored further ways in which social partners have been involved in the respective NAP process in their own country. Two particular issues are:

  1. procedures concerning information and consultation of social partners in relation to the NAP process,
  2. policy content.

Regarding the procedures concerning information and consultation of the social partners in relation to the NAP process, it can be argued that a significant degree of tripartism was demonstrated. In most cases, the social partners have submitted their views and to a certain extent they managed to influence the creation of the NAPs. However, the fact that these views are included in the final text does not necessarily imply that there always was a chapter or a part actually written by the social partners themselves. Additionally, the NAPs in the majority of cases were not considered as a joint text and were not always signed by the social partners. Nevertheless, with a few exceptions, the degree of social partners consultation was important.

Concerning matters of policy content and based on the EIRO National Centre's reports, it can be concluded that the level of cooperation between the government and the social partners was not disappointing. In many cases, there was a comprehensive partnership established between government and social partners. However, it is important to emphasize that the way in which the social partners assessed the employment policy of the governments differed significantly from country to country. Consequently, in most cases, certain deficiencies were identified by the social partners in the NAPs.

In conclusion, through this presentation which has covered a selection of particular issues - social and territorial pacts, lifelong-learning and NAPs - using EIRO records, it is obvious that tripartism across Western Europe is indeed very important for a "most competitive and dynamic knowledge based..." enlarged Europe, "…capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion" .


Before I close this presentation, please let me present some information on EIRO, because it is an important practical tool for all the actors involved in industrial relations, policy makers and researchers. Its role is to monitor developments in industrial relations. It has had uninterrupted operation since 1997, providing accurate and up-to-date information and analysis on developments in industrial relations at pan-European level, Norway, Japan, USA and the EU Candidate Countries.

In particular, EIRO initiates, collects, stores, disseminates and provides access to an analysis of industrial relations issues. It has a network of 21 National Centres. 15 NCs in Member States, 1 that covers issues at European level, 1 NC in Norway and 4 NCs in Candidate Countries since last May. Our plan is to extend the EIRO network from to 2003 to the remaining 9 Candidate Countries.

EIRO owes its success to the following factors:

  • Social partners' representation in the Advisory Committee;
  • the fact that it is the only online database on industrial relations which provides also comparative information;
  • it is news-oriented, authoritative, and up-to-date;
  • it also offers an analysis and quick response enquiry service.

Currently, EIRO has almost 3000 users per day and this trend is increasing.

EIRO products are: Articles, Comparative Studies, Annual Updates, sectoral & thematic reports, EIRObserver bulletin and the Annual Review, which in 2003, will be produced in collaboration with DG Employment of the European Commission.

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