The involvement of workers and employers (the social partners) in negotiation and consultation has helped companies and workers adapt to change and their contribution has, in particular, helped to minimise job losses in Europe according to a new report published by the Commission.
The social partners are also playing an important role in the successful implementation of the EU's Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Analyzing the first phase of the crisis, the Industrial Relations in Europe 2010 report examines in detail the crisis-response agreements reached in different sectors. In more than half of EU countries, the national employers' and trade union federations signed specific agreements, either among themselves or with the government, or were involved in designing specific public policy measures, mainly short-time working schemes. In several EU countries, the crisis led for the first time to such social partner agreements at national cross-industry level. Nonetheless, the degree of consensus varies widely between countries and economic sectors, with industrial conflicts still emerging in a number of Member States.
The report also finds that the further decentralisation of wage-setting arrangements towards company-level bargaining is a continuing trend, with workers reaching agreements directly with their employers about pay.
Other issues outlined in the report include the social partners' increased attention to the transition to a low-carbon economy. The report stresses how, in the long run, social dialogue is crucial for a well-managed and socially just transition to a low-carbon economy.
Overall, the report confirms that collective bargaining is still very much present in Europe, with two thirds of all workers covered by a collective agreement. There has been a slow decline in trade union membership – from 37% of workers in 2000 to less than 31% in 2008 – but membership of employers' organisations, which largely determines collective bargaining coverage, appears to be stable.