Social dialogue

06 December 2019

Social dialogue can be defined as negotiations, consultations, joint actions, discussions and information-sharing involving employers and workers. Well-functioning social dialogue is a key tool in shaping working conditions, involving a variety of actors at various levels. It balances the interests of workers and employers and contributes to both economic competitiveness and social cohesion.

    EU context

    Recent EU-level policy debates have highlighted that, particularly since the 2008 crisis, the emergence of new debates on social justice, democracy, the quality of work and new models for labour relations have been challenging traditional industrial relations and social dialogue systems.

    Thirty years after the historic inauguration of European social dialogue at Val Duchesse in Brussels, the Commission relaunched the process of a new start for social dialogue at a high-level event bringing together social partner organisations from across Europe on 5 March 2015. European social dialogue is an instrument of EU social policy, contributing directly to shaping EU labour legislation and policies.


    Policymakers need solid evidence to understand the changes taking place in the labour market and to respond to the changing dynamics of industrial relations in Europe. Eurofound uses data and analysis drawn from its network of correspondents in the 28 EU Member States and Norway to map trends and patterns and to point to examples of well-functioning social dialogue at both European and national level.

    Eurofound research investigates aspects such as worker participation, collective bargaining, employee representation and industrial relations at all levels. It examines the extent to which industrial relations have adapted to the emergence of multinational organisations. And it also takes a global perspective, comparing industrial relations systems and outcomes in economies outside the EU, such as the US and Japan.

    Eurofound has produced a large body of work extending over 40 years that has charted the many and changing facets of social dialogue in Europe at various levels: company, national, European and international.

    In recent years, Eurofound has conducted in-depth analyses of various issues at the heart of social dialogue, such as: 

    Eurofound’s representativeness studies carried out across multiple sectors, following a mandate from the Commission in 2006, provide the basic information needed for the setting up and functioning of the European sectoral social dialogue committees.

    Data and resources

    • European Industrial Relations Dictionary: Developed in 2005 as an online reference tool for policymakers and practitioners, the dictionary is a valuable storehouse of information on employment and industrial relations in the EU.
    • Country profiles: These working and living country profiles provide relevant contextual information on the structures, institutions and regulations underpinning working life in the EU28 Member States and Norway and at EU level.
    • Data: Database of wages, working time and collective disputes: The database aims to provide researchers and policymakers with quantitative and qualitative information on these topics across all Member States and Norway from 2000 to the present.

    Ongoing work

    In the course of the programming period 2017–2020, research will draw on this body of work to identify capacity gaps and possible solutions to support capacity-building for effective social dialogue.

    Other topics addressed will include:

    • Social dialogue in companies, particularly linkages that can be drawn between national and EU level, to better understand of cooperation mechanisms used in decision-making and implementation in multinational companies
    • Exploration of the role of national social partners in the European semester and analysis of quality and effectiveness of their involvement 
    • Summary of discussions on capacity-building social dialogue to support a meaningful and effective social dialogue 
    • A flagship report on industrial relations covering topics related to both social dialogue and working life developments, including updates on collectively agreed pay
    • Representativeness studies on a variety of sectors to provide the European Commission required information to assess the representativeness of European sectoral social partner organisations.


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