UNICE outlines its vision for the future of the European social dialogue

On 26 February 1997, UNICE, the European employers' body, issued its response to the recent Communication from the European Commission on the development of the social dialogue at Community level. The document shows a considerable degree of agreement between European intersectoral social partner organisations on the future shape of the European social dialogue process.

In its response to the Commission's September 1996 Communication on the development of the social dialogue (see Record EU9702102F), UNICE (the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe) welcomes the opportunity for debate and calls for a reinforcement of consultation with the social partners. However, it argues that the treatment of fundamentally different processes in one Communication adds a source of confusion to the debate. These varied processes include: the consultation and negotiation within the meaning of Article 118B of the EC Treaty and Article 3.1 of the Agreement on social policy; Advisory Committees; the Standing Committee on Employment; the joint sectoral committees and informal working groups; tripartite bodies; joint operational initiatives; European Works Councils, and the social dialogue in trans-boundary region. UNICE feels that the Communication should have:

  • confined itself to consultation by the Commission of European social partner organisations and to dialogue between the latter; and
  • distinguished clearly between essentially bipartite social dialogue and tripartite forums.

Like European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of General Economic Interest (CEEP), UNICE is keen to maintain the autonomy of the social partners in determining the objectives, content and organisation of the social dialogue process at sectoral and intersectoral level. While added resources for the dissemination of the results of this process are welcomed, UNICE argues that such dissemination to its member organisations is a task it already performs through meetings of the European Employers' Network.

In its Communication, the Commission proposed to reinforce sectoral coordination by bringing the representatives of the different sectoral dialogues closer together in a formal structure to enable them to exchange views on developments in consultation and social policy. UNICE rejects this proposal, recalling a joint opinion formulated by ETUC, CEEP and UNICE on 29 October 1993, which demanded that:

  • the sectoral social partners be consulted separately on issues not specific to a particular sector; and
  • consultation be organised with sectoral social partners where a proposal affects them specifically.

UNICE agrees with ETUC and CEEP that it is too early to assess the workings of the social dialogue under the Agreement on social policy on the basis of the single example of the December 1995 agreement on parental leave, but calls the experience so far "positive and promising". It also supports the extension of time allowed for consultation, to enable European level social partner organisation to take soundings at the grassroots level.

On the question of the representativeness of the organisations taking part in the social dialogue process, UNICE states that this should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and maintains that the guidelines laid down in the October 1993 joint opinion (see above) remain relevant.

UNICE points out the importance of distinguishing between the nature and objectives of interprofessional advisory committees and the social dialogue. In order to avoid duplication of consultations, it suggests the institution of an annual planning process involving the Commission and the social partners at which themes and priorities are defined, as well as the forums in which they should be discussed.

There is also agreement with the views voiced by ETUC and CEEP on the need for reform of the Standing Committee on Employment. This should, however, be left until after the completion of the Intergovernmental Conference. While UNICE welcomes the importance attached to employment in Europe and underlines its support for the Essen conclusions on employment strategy, it sees job creation mainly as a function of flexibility and social and economic innovation. It is also seen as an essentially national responsibility.

Finally, regional social partner cooperation is seen to be outside the remit of the Commission Communication, as it is not covered by the Treaty.

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