Social Dialogue Review: Widening Gap Between Employers and Employees

The European Commission has launched a process to review the functioning of European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committees. While the Commission considers Social Dialogue as a "success story" in terms of the number of sectors covered and the number of texts agreed, there is an evident gap in the assessment made by employers and employees.

Employers are highly satisfied with the way Social Dialogue works while employees, whilst acknowledging the progress made, are very critical of the effectiveness and the quality of this Dialogue. This reflects the situation of industrial relations in Europe where companies feel comfortable whereas labour often feels powerless.

At a recent conference, Employees' representatives asked for a fundamental review to give Social Dialogue more teeth. They urged for a more active role of the Commission in helping parties to reach meaningful agreements and asked for economic support for their organisations. Furthermore, the employees asked for more action in the field of Collective Bargaining.

The Employers' associations, on the contrary, insisted on the need to limit the scope of European Social Dialogue to issues of European competence and to respect the principle of subsidiarity. They also highlighted the need to preserve the principle of autonomy of the social partners and rejected any increased role for the European institutions.

Both sides, however, agreed on the need to improve the follow-up of the agreements they had concluded. Proper implementation of agreements is indeed a big issue. An important percentage of agreements are simply not implemented and the Commission and the Social Partners could work together to improve this situation.

The Commission intends to publish their ideas for the review of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue in a "white paper" at the end of 2009. Social Dialogue cannot remain a nice show-window to give European leaders good social conscience. The EU has now the opportunity to show its commitment towards a truly social Europe.