Commission publishes first annual review of the EU-level social dialogue

In its first annual review of the development of the social dialogue process at European level, the European Commission highlights what it sees as the main achievements, as well as shortcomings. The review, adopted in May 1997, lists the initiatives which have been taken at interprofessional and sectoral level and stresses the success of consultations and negotiations under the Agreement on Social Policy annexed to the Maastricht Treaty.

The first annual review of the social dialogue process at the European Union level was adopted by the Commission on 6 May 1997. The review characterises 1996 as "a particularly fruitful and productive year" for the social dialogue at European level. Despite this overall positive assessment, the review highlights the fact that, despite endeavours towards the establishment of a dialogue between the social partners, and in some cases, negotiation, this represents only the background of a European-scale industrial relations systems which is yet to take shape.

The Confidence Pact for Action on Employment in Europe launched by Commission President Jacques Santer in January 1996, and the September 1996 Commission Communication on the development of the social dialogue process at Community level (EU9702102F) are listed as the two key events shaping the direction of the social dialogue process in 1996.

The former led to the adoption of a joint declaration on employment by the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (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 the run-up to the December European Council meeting in Dublin. The year 1996 also witnessed the opening of negotiations under Article 3 (4) of the Agreement on Social Policy by the European social partners - the second time this new instrument had been used. These negotiations have now led to the adoption of a draft framework agreement on part-time work (EU9705130N).

Activities in all areas of the sectoral social dialogue gained momentum, with 30 joint opinions, memorandums, recommendations and agreements being adopted. The majority of joint opinions were concerned with the preservation of the basic principles governing activities in the sectors concerned, or the safeguarding of employment in the industry. Agreements, opinions and recommendations adopted in the sectoral social dialogue process included the following:

  • agreements recommending the application of all or part of Council Directive 93/104/EC on working time were concluded in the railways, sea transport and civil aviation sectors;
  • the social partners in the cleaning industry adopted a memorandum on new services to private individuals and on agreements covering workers engaged in the new activities thus created;
  • the social partners in the distributive trades and private security industries issued opinions and recommendations aimed at improving their image and outlining ways of achieving greater professionalism;
  • in the agricultural sector an agreement was formulated aimed at reducing working time an developing new areas of activity;
  • the fishing industry considered the implications of environmental policy on its activities;
  • health and safety issues were the focus of discussions in the construction industry; and
  • the textiles, clothing and footwear industries commenced preparation of their own codes of practice in a context of widening international competition (regulation of child labour and respect for fundamental rights).

In another area of European-level industrial relations, more than 400 pre-emptive agreements on the establishment of European Works Councils were concluded prior to the coming into force of Council Directive 94/45/EEC in September 1994.

Another area where social dialogue is developing is at the cross-border level, via the interregional trade union committees set up by ETUC. These operate in close conjunction with the EURES network linking up member states' national employment agencies in a number of regions.

Developments in cross-industry advisory committees and in the Standing Committee on Employment are also covered by the review.

Summing up the findings of this first annual review, employment. industrial relations and social affairs commissioner, Padraig Flynn argued that:

"the European level dialogue is starting to produce significant results but the links between it and the national, and the national and industry levels, are creating problems. We have to invent a European industrial relations culture, which integrates Europe into the social partners' strategies and dialogue at all levels. And that requires, at least, major efforts and training to make the social partners aware of the issues of European integration". (Commission press release, 6 May 1997)

The European social dialogue process is currently undergoing scrutiny, and another Communication is expected from the Commission on its future development, based on the consultations with the social partners resulting from the 1996 Communication on the development of the social dialogue. In his closing address to the" European forum on the future of the European social dialogue" held in The Hague on 28-29 April, Commissioner Flynn called for an opening up of the central "Val Duchesse" dialogue to other organisations "prepared to make a constructive and flexible contribution". Mr Flynn argued that the sectoral social dialogue needed to be reviewed to improve its effectiveness. The consultation and negotiation process under the Agreement on Social Policy also needed to be reformed in a number of ways reflecting the opinions provided by the social partners - such as the setting of deadlines for consultations on a case-by-case basis, and a greater representativeness of those participating in the process.

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