It is thought that the European Union, besides other markets, has liberalized the employment market by lowering the level of regulations in this sphere and enabling people from each Member State of the Union to become employed in any Member State. This has taken more than fifty years of deliberations and negotiations between the sides.
Among the main instruments, which have been used during this procedure, we need to list social partnership and social dialogue as the procedures aimed at reaching consensus between the social partners.
Additionally, the European Union as a result of implementation of the previously discussed mechanisms has provided a list of privileges and guarantees for the employees. The policy of the European Union in the field of employment, according to the latest statistical data, has led to the achievement of high employment and strong social protection, improvement of living and working conditions, and protection of social cohesion (Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion n.d.).
The European Employment Strategy which was adopted by the Council of Europe and later taken into account by the European Union foresees the main principle in terms of employment: ‘‘Member States should ensure good governance of employment policies. They should establish a broad partnership for change by involving parliamentary bodies and stakeholders European and national social partners should play a central role’ (Concil, 2005a: 23)
Social Partnership and Social Dialogue Definition
The concept of social partnership is one of the main instruments the European Union applied in terms of employment regulation. This concept implies that trade unions and employers have significant areas of common interest and that their differences are susceptible to resolution through building consensus (Boyd 2002).
Its main idea is the creation of such conditions, when certain groups could participate in decision-making and, consequently, contribute to it. Casey & Gold (2000) define social partnership as a set of interactions between the various social partners designed to achieve a forum for the discussion and the possibly resolution of joint problems, acknowledging that the methods, levels, and forms of these interactions vary widely between countries and over time. The areas which are to be covered as a result of this activity are different. These are social policy, particularly social insurance, general governmental spending, regulation of active labor market, job creation and training etc. (Boyd 2002).
Casey & Gold (2000), on the contrary, define the four main spheres which could be influenced by social partnership, namely macroeconomic policy, pay determination and employee relations, training and social security.
In context of the European Union, it is accepted to list four phases of the establishment of social partnership model. The first phase is the passing of Treaty of Rome in 1957, as a result of which an Economic and Social Committee was founded, which was the platform for representatives from employees’ organizations and trade unions participation (p. 6). The Committee participated in the legislative processes covering agricultural, consumer, and commercial issues. In the Treaty per se it is written that the states’ objective is to put all the efforts to the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their peoples (Treaty of Rome 1957). For this purpose, additionally, European Social Fund which had to improve employment opportunities for workers and to contribute to the raising of the standard of living was established (Treaty of Rome 1957)
First guarantees for the workers were prescribed also by the Treaty of Rome, namely to move freely within the territory of the Members States and to become employed there; additionally, to stay in such Member State after becoming employed.
Second phase consisted in the creation of the Standing Committee on Employment in 1970 the purpose of which was to ensure that there shall be continuous dialogue, joint action, and consultation between the institutions of the community and the social partners (Boyd 2002). The Committee was made up of the Council of the Representatives of the Government of the Member States; the Commission; employees’’ organizations; workers’ organizations.
Third stage is called Val Duchesses Dialogue with social partners the target of which was to stimulate the improvement of the employment regulations, develop the relationships between social partners, and overcome the difficulties which have arisen. This stage resulted in application of the Single European Act of 1987.
Among its provisions the followings deserve mentioning: the Institutions of the Community shall promote improved working conditions and an improved standard of living for the workers in each of the industries for which it is responsible, so as to make possible their harmonization while the improvement is being maintained (Single European Act 1987).
Also, the Commission shall endeavor to develop the dialogue between management and labor at European level which could, if the two sides consider it desirable, lead to relations based on agreement (Single European Act 1987).
These were the concrete attempts to establish deep dialogue between the social partners so as to unify the regulation in the sphere of labor relations. Their target was to ease the entrance to the market for the labor force from different Member States.
The last nowadays defined stage was the agreement between 3 social partner organizations, namely Commission, ETUC, and UNICE (Boyd 2002). Their agreement was implemented into the Treaty on European Union, namely Maastricht Treaty.
Inter alia, all the parties to it agreed upon the following provisions: the Community and the Member States shall have as their objectives the promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, proper social protection, dialogue between management and labor, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion (Maastricht Treaty 1991).
Contemporary Features: Strengths and Weaknesses
Among the targets of the Community, it was defined that the aim is to improve initial and continuing vocational training in order to facilitate vocational integration and reintegration into the labor market (Maastricht Treaty 1991). The Treaty made it possible to recognize the Social Partners which could have adopted the social collective agreements since that time. These agreements could be given legislative effect and the Social Partners became more involved in drawing up, implementing and following up the appropriate guidelines, focusing particularly on modernizing work organization and equal opportunities (Barnard ).
Later on the Commission has adopted a number of acts regarding the matter of social dialogue, in particular in 2002. It was estimated that communication, or social dialogue, could lead to such results: increase of the consultation of the social partners in the drafting EU law to include all initiatives in terms of social context; improvement of the procedures and rules for consultation; encouragement of cooperation between national organizations and the improvement of the integral governance etc (Commission 2002). According to this act, European social dialogue was called a force for innovation and change (Commission 2002).
Other important tools which have been established are different forms of dialogue defined at the European Union law level. There are two main forms: a two-way dialogue between the European employers and trade union organizations within certain sectors of economy and a three-way dialogue which involves public authorities (Commission 2002)
Specific institutes have been created so as to carry out the policy of social dialogue. These are the Social Dialogue Committee as the platform for the two-way dialogue; the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment as a conference which is held twice a year and consists in delegation of social partners from different employees and workers’ organizations as well as from the EU bodies; the Macroeconomic Dialogue as a technical institute during which the proposals made at the previously mentioned conference could be taken into account (Commission 2002). Other institutes have advisory character and are not standing.
The European Union has concluded that social dialogue has contributed the Member States and the Union per se in the following way: the results of the social partners cooperation have been taken into account while more than 500 texts were prepared (they obtained different legal status) (Commission 2010). Additionally, the social partners have reached consensus over five legally binding acts which have been later implemented by directives (Commission 2010). Moreover, they have participated in the development of four cross-industry agreements which have become legally binding (Commission 2010).
The chance to participate in decision-making involved biggest professional and managerial organizations of Europe, namely EUROCADRES and CEC, to take part in social dialogue (Barnard 2012). It (social dialogue) has demonstrated and proven its effectiveness in the aspect of addressing employment-related issues (Commission 2002).
Also, social dialogue is considered to promote the goals which have to be achieved, according to EU 2020 strategies. In this context, the importance of Social Partners as those who are the catalysts of the procedure of social dialogue can be understood. The possibility of the Social Partners to get involved in all the EU processes is prescribed by Lisbon Treaty. In accordance with it, the European institutions shall maintain an open, transparent, and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society (Craig & de Burca 2011).
Social Partnership Procedure is not formally limited and restricted, namely there is no exhaustive list of means which can be applied towards the reaching of the consensus. The main target is to minimize the negative influences which could be exposed by the legislative activity of the EU (Compston & Greenwood 2001).
The main rationales for European Social Dialogue or its strengths have been defined by ETUC. At first, it can manage to achieve social justice, equity, and cohesion, meaning it can be done in the way of ensuring representative influence of the weaker part in working life and civil society in EU policy-making; defending and adapting the European Union Social model (Compston & Greenwood 2001).
Secondly, European Social dialogue leads to the institutionalization of the principle of subsidiarity by defending the autonomy of organize labor and capital (Compston & Greenwood 2001). Additionally, the dialogue could reduce the conflict between the employees and employers and balance their interests (p.38).
However, there are disadvantages of such model. In particular, in context of power relations, namely the consensual policy-style often leads to the existence of business-veto groups with the upper hand (p.39). Also, there is a typical barrier of balancing the interests of the different national representatives that are often against the limitation of regulation of certain social phenomena and issues by the domestic law.
Such model, in addition, can lead to the opposition of certain powerful domestic trade unions which lose their impact. In contrast, it is beneficial for those trade unions which were often weak.
The application of social partnership and social dialogue to the practice of the European Union has demonstrated the willingness of the former to harmonize the legislative processes of the Union with the potential consequences of such activity for the Members States. It has led to participation of the representatives of the governments, employers and employees in dealing with EU’s social matters. This activity has benefited the EU in context of reaching the general social consensus between lots of parties involved. Not exhaustive list of means of social dialogue and social partnership also gives additional possibilities to govern these relations and to hope that certain result will be achieved. The latest statistical data have proven the efficiency and effectiveness of such policy: such procedures were applied during decision-making, in particular in terms of creation of hard law of the European Union.
Barnard, C 2012, EU Employment Law, 4th edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Boyd, S 2002, ‘Partnership Working: European Social Partnership Models’, STUC : 1-59.
COM 2002, ‘The European social dialogue, a force for innovation and change’, COM (2002) 341 final of 26.6.2002
COM 2010, ‘Commission staff working document on the functioning and potential of European sectoral social dialogue’, SEC(2010) 964 final of 22.7.2010
Compston, H, Greenwood, J 2011, Social Partnership in the European Union, PALGRAVE, Hampshire.
Council 2005a, ‘Council Decision of 12 July 2005 on Guidelines for the Employment Policies of the Member States’, Official Journal of the European Union OJ L/205: 21–7
Craig, P, de Burca, G 2011, EU Law: Text, Cases, and Materials, 5th edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Gold, M, Cressey, P, L´eonard. E 2007, ‘Whatever Happened to Social Dialogue? From Partnership to Managerialism in the EU Employment Agenda’, European Journal of Industrial Relations, SAGE Publications, 13 (1), pp.7-25.
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Jacobsson, K 2005, ‘"Between Deliberation and Discipline: Soft Governance in EU Employment Policy’, Morth