Call for representation of civil society in tripartite discussions
There is still no forum in Lithuania where representatives of non-governmental organisations would have an opportunity to systematically express an opinion before decisions of national importance are made. The Lithuanian representatives at the European Economic and Social Committee are also insufficiently advised on the opinions of various social partners. In the light of these shortcomings, the social partners have considered extending the scope of activities of the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania by including more organisations representing the non-governmental sector.
Lithuania has been represented at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) since 2004. Some time ago, the Lithuanian representatives at the EESC reported that they lacked consistent and generalised information about the opinions of various Lithuanian social partners on the issues addressed at the EESC, as well as insufficient advice from experts in many specific fields. To date, there is no institutional forum in Lithuania where various civic organisations can express their points of view on issues arising at national or at European level.
Incorporating non-governmental interests
The activity plan for implementing the government’s work programme 2004–2008 included the drafting of a regulation aimed at establishing closer links with the EESC that would ‘enable the development of the participation of social partners and non-governmental organisations in the tackling of EU-related problems’. The responsibility for drafting this regulation falls upon the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministerija, SADM), the Ministry of Economy (Ūkio ministerija, ŪM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Užsienio reikalų ministerija, URM).
At the beginning of 2006, discussions at the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Trišalė Taryba, LRTT) commenced concerning the likely expansion of LRTT activities to include other interest organisations from the non-governmental sector. So far, the LRTT consists of representatives from national employer and employee organisations and the government.
When considering the issue of expanding the LRTT, the social partners explored two possibilities, namely:
- establishing a standing commission at the LRTT comprising the representatives of employers, employees and the non-profit sector, which would function on the basis of the principles of the EESC;
- establishing a comparable body to the EESC in Lithuania that would eventually replace the current LRTT.
Situation in other countries
In order to appraise the existing situation objectively, the LRTT secretariat prepared an extensive report on the social dialogue practices that exist in other EU countries. In June 2006, this report was submitted to the social partners at the LRTT. According to the secretariat, tripartite councils that are similar to the LRTT are found mainly in the new Member States, while most of the older Member States have EESC-type structures. Normally, the latter represent trade unions, employer organisations and key non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In terms of government representation, the government delegates professional experts to such councils rather than politicians or high-ranking officials, as in the case of Lithuania. The Lithuanian social partners discussed opportunities for establishing such a council in Lithuania at a taskforce meeting.
Importance of focus on labour relations
In their discussions, the social partners agreed to consider any option apart from abolishing the existing tripartite council, which mainly deals with issues related to labour relations. The LRTT analyses social, economic and labour market problems and puts forward proposals for solving these problems. In addition, it considers draft laws as well as other draft legal provisions in the social, economic and labour market fields at its own initiative, and makes observations and proposals to the parliament and government. Furthermore, the LRTT considers and approves the draft annual tripartite agreement.
In many of the older Member States that have socioeconomic committees with a wider representation, a well-developed bipartite social dialogue between employers and employees also functions in parallel, including a process of bipartite collective bargaining. In Lithuania, however, a body such as the LRTT remains necessary, since collective bargaining between employers and employees has not yet attained the necessary scope.
The involvement of representatives from various NGOs into LRTT activities would significantly change the nature of those activities, expand the breadth and scale of problems addressed and make the issues specifically concerning labour relations of secondary importance. Such a situation is unsatisfactory for the Lithuanian social partners.
Separate commission within LRTT
On the other hand, the Lithuanian social partners agree that it is important to involve civic society when considering relevant public issues. The LRTT secretariat regularly receives requests to include NGO representatives in its activities. The social partners have decided that, for the moment, the best solution is to establish a separate commission at the LRTT that would function along the same principles as the EESC. The activities of this commission could be extended over time if necessary.
Although the legal framework in Lithuania obliges various authorities to consult the relevant social partners in making particular decisions, the involvement of the public in making decisions of national importance is still insignificant. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to remove the relatively effective tripartite social dialogue institution that exists in Lithuania.
Inga Blažienė, Institute of Labour and Social Research