Within Europe, free collective bargaining is a cornerstone of democratic societies. It enables employers and trade unions, as autonomous bargaining parties, to freely determine the terms and conditions of the employment relationship. By ensuring minimum standards of pay, working time and other working conditions, in particular for those with weak individual negotiating power, collective bargaining has a protective function for workers. It also has an important distributive function by securing workers a fair share of economic growth. For employers, collective bargaining has a key conflict management function by providing a structured process for resolving diverging interests.
Over time, a great variety of collective bargaining systems been developed across different European countries, depending on the different political and economic conditions, national traditions, customs and practices. Today no two national collective bargaining systems are alike. Despite this great variety, it is possible to identify five geographical clusters of collective bargaining models which share some key institutional characteristics. The table below provides a broad overview of the five models.
With the caveat in mind that the real world is always more complex than ideal-type models and that assigning one country to any classification is an approximation at best, the objective of the remainder of this document is to map the collective bargaining landscape of Europe. Appropriate key features will be explained by drawing on specific country examples. The key focus will be on the institutional characteristics of the bargaining systems rather than on bargaining outcomes, such as wages, working time or other terms and conditions.