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2006 Report on Industrial Relations in Europe

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2006 Report on Industrial Relations in Europe

This Report presents developments in the social dialogue at national and European level, under the framework of the renewed Lisbon Strategy. The Commission notes that the flexibility of the labour market and collective agreements has become more and more marked. It also notes a decrease in membership of trade unions and employers’ associations. The Report highlights a new European legal framework in favour of developing employee representation in the workplace, particularly in Ireland, the United Kingdom and many Central and Eastern European States.


Report of the European Commission Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities – Industrial Relations in Europe 2006 [Not published in the Official Journal].


Social dialogue is a social policy tool, which has particular importance in the revision of the Lisbon Strategy adopted in 2005. In fact, the participation of social partners is essential in achieving the Strategy objectives and making the European Union (EU) the most competitive knowledge economy in the world.

Employee representation and the capacity of employers’ organisations varies depending on the Member State. As such union density, defined as the ratio between actual and potential membership, is generally lower in southern Europe and in Central and Eastern Europe. This density also varies depending on the sector of activity, gender or age of employees. The power and structure of employers’ organisations are also relatively diverse. Their density is generally higher than that of trade unions, except in the Nordic countries.

Autonomous collective agreements enable a free definition of wage policies and working conditions and can be used to establish social rights. The current trend is for agreements to be used to derogate from some legal standards.

Employee representation in the workplace is one of the distinctive features of the Community’s industrial relations system. Differences exist between Member States in terms of the structure of national representation models, but also in terms of sector of activity, establishment size and occupational category. Lack of representation is more significant in the private sector than in the public sector. The requirement for informing and consulting workers is regulated by Directive 2002/14/EC.

Building the capacity of new Member States and candidate countries to manage industrial relations is a priority, pursued through technical cooperation actions. In particular, these actions aim at encouraging the participation of social partners in fora at European level and strengthening tripartite dialogue at national level.

The 20th anniversary of the launch of the European social dialogue presented an opportunity to assess its progress, which is characterised by an increased autonomy of European social partners. This Report highlights the importance of tripartite dialogue in meeting the Lisbon objectives. In particular, bilateral dialogue is used for implementing flexicurity and lifelong learning models, as well as the autonomous European framework agreement on teleworking. The multi-annual work programme for European social dialogue (2006-2008) should encourage future progress.

Between 2004 and 2006 Community legislation was developed in different sectors. Directives were adopted in the areas of health and safety at work, regarding the exposure of workers to electromagnetic fields, to carcinogens and mutagens and to artificial optical radiation. The Agreement on mobile workers carrying out cross-border interoperability services was implemented by Directive 2005/47/EC. In 2005 the Commission presented a Communication on employment and restructuring companies. In addition, a new Directive regulates cross-border mergers of companies and employee consultation procedures.

Progress has also been made in tackling discrimination and equal treatment in matters of employment. Provisions relating to mobility, workers’ right to residency and the coordination of social security schemes have been simplified. Since 2006 E-forms have been replaced by the European health insurance card for European Union (EC) and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens.

The labour market of today is moving towards greater flexibility, atypical working conditions and increased diversity in terms of contracts and working hours. Employment flexibility could present a risk to social cohesion. Together with other risk factors, it could result in the creation of vulnerable situations.

Flexibility should be balanced out by different factors such as economic growth, stable job creation, internal flexibility in companies and improving the quality of work. If economic results cannot be directly linked to a social dialogue model, industrial relations systems with strong union representation and where the social partners participate in the political process tend to be more competitive. This is the case when trade unions and employers’ organisations act in a coordinated way.

Last updated: 30.07.2009