The European Commission has published a Communication and a proposal for a Council Recommendation outlining how it intends to strengthen social dialogue and collective bargaining in the EU. UNI Europa echoes the ETUC’s welcoming of the recognition of the contribution of social dialogue which is put forward. We highlight what is needed to mainstream these benefits so that all working people across Europe can avail of democracy at work.
Social dialogue, with at its core collective bargaining, has been a defining feature of the European social model. As the Commission rightly puts it: “social dialogue is a key driver for economic and social resilience, competitiveness, fairness and sustainable growth”, and “collective bargaining should be available to all workers who are in comparable situations, including the self-employed”.
In addition to the point raised in our statement with the other European Trade Union Federations (ETUFs), UNI Europa highlights two key points: the role of public procurement and ensuring inclusive social dialogue at every level and sector.
Public procurement, the money spent by public institutions on goods and services delivered by private sector companies, accounts for 14% of the EU’s GDP. In its Recommendation, the Commission confirms that the public procurement directive requires member states to respect the right to organise and collective bargaining. The experience of workers is different, sometimes even the opposite. It is imperative that the EU Commission ensure that public tenders do not incentivise those companies to undermine social dialogue and collective bargaining. To ensure policy coherence, the EU Commission must fix the Public Procurement Directive to ensure that all public tenders require companies to respect applicable collective agreements and democracy at work. Indeed, UNI Europa is calling for contractors to be social partners and apply collectively agreed conditions down their sub-contracting chain.
UNI Europa will continue to push for inclusive social dialogue. Our vision is to build real negotiating power from the local to the European level. This requires the inclusion of all representative European social partners. Representativeness studies provide social partners and the European Commission with valuable insights to strengthen social dialogue in the areas covered both nationally and at the EU-level. Capacity building and trade union organising are crucial to establish strong social partners in every Member State and sector, with a view to achieve the EU’s 80% target on collective bargaining coverage. The establishment of a social dialogue committee for social services is long overdue, one that is inclusive and represents as many national unions in the sector as possible. The Commission’s Communication aligns with our view that a social dialogue that deliberately excludes representative social partners is legally and politically untenable. Indeed, we need new cooperative forms of social dialogue that overcome fragmentation and remain open to employers – in social services especially from the private, for-profit sector – that do not yet have the European structures to engage.
One key challenge for social partners as much as for governments and the EU is the accelerating speed of change that impacts how industrial sectors evolve. A joint effort is needed to make social dialogue, with collective bargaining at its core, future proof. It means, together we must ensure that social dialogue takes root in emerging sectors. As the unions in services, UNI Europa and its affiliates are at the centre of this transformation. In its Communication, the Commission declares its commitment to push in this direction. What we need to see now is the concrete political and financial engagement by the EU – as much at the European level as at the national one. The tentative use of recommendations in terms of the recovery and resilience facility and the European Semester show what is possible, but EU action must be broadened, focusing on sectors, too.
A main concern of European social partners remains the Commission’s political and financial support for European-level sectoral social dialogues. UNI Europa expects a proposal by the Commission that ensures their long-term sustainability, but also supports realising their full potential in delivering a social Europe and assists social partners nationally. An important first step is the Commission’s introduction of a social dialogue coordinator in each of its directorates general to mainstream the EU’s social dimension – a long term demand of the social partners. UNI Europa, together with CoiffeureEU and directorates general of the Commission, already showed the benefit of such an approach when implementing the social partner agreement on the protection of the health of millions of hairdressers. Instead of using either EU legislation or the self-regulatory power of social partners, we combined the latter with EU non-legislative action. As this example demonstrates, such tripartite cooperation enhances networking across member states as well as Commission services and EU agencies. It results in more traction and permanence for European social dialogue, both in terms of process and impact.