The EESC describes the Commission's proposals for strengthening social dialogue in Member States and the EU as both timely and necessary, but calls for additional steps. Action is needed on improving national consultations with the social partners, national and European collective bargaining coverage and the implementation of social partner agreements
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has welcomed the recent European Commission initiative to strengthen and promote social dialogue in the EU. However, it has flagged up issues that need to be addressed to ensure that social dialogue is meaningful and effective at national and European level.
In the opinion adopted at its plenary session in April, the EESC analysed the Commission's recent Communication on strengthening social dialogue and the proposal for a Council recommendation on the same topic.
The EESC said it was fully aligned with the Commission's view that negotiations and consultations between government representatives and the social partners – representatives of workers and employers - were a key tool in shaping national and EU policies that can improve living and working conditions across Member States. However, it warned against taking a positive outcome of social dialogue for granted.
According to the EESC, the Commission should look at successful national, regional and sectoral models and see why they became successful.
"In its ambition to strengthen social dialogue, the Commission's initiative is to be welcomed. At the same time, our opinion recommends further steps, for instance when it comes to improving tripartite social dialogue at national level, improving collective bargaining coverage, and using Council directives to develop clear rules for the implementation of social partner agreements, said the rapporteur of the opinion, Pekka Ristelä.
In the EESC's view, effective social dialogue must include representative and legitimate social partners with knowledge, technical capacity and timely access to information. It also requires the political will and commitment to engage in it. Respect for social partners' autonomy and rights, such as the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, is required, as is an enabling legal and institutional framework.
We believe that the proposed Recommendation is an appropriate instrument to support the process if it stipulates clear and effective monitoring provisions initially proposed by the Commission. We understand from the discussion between Member States that this appears to be a problem from the outset. The final text of the Recommendation will be a litmus test for the genuine political will to truly strengthen the process, said the co-rapporteur, Maryia Mincheva.
The EESC feels that a number of issues require further action: these include the failure to list sectoral collective agreements among the important factors for improving collective bargaining coverage nationally and at EU level. Although this point was made in the Communication, it is absent from the Recommendation.
The EESC also pointed to the fact that in some Member States, tripartite social dialogues are more a matter of form than substance. To counter this and ensure that quality consultations with national social partners take place, the EESC proposes establishing a common effective framework for involving the social partners at national level. Furthermore, the results of the consultations should be linked to national plans for reforms and investments. If the social partners are not meaningfully involved, the EESC recommends that the Commission take action.
The EESC also expressed concern about the lack of clarity regarding the implementation of social partner agreements through Council directives.
Without clarity, transparency and predictability, the wide discretion of the European Commission in this matter is likely to have the unintended consequence of discouraging the social partners from negotiating these kinds of agreements, it said in the opinion, again calling upon the Commission to discuss this issue with the social partners.
The EESC agreed with the point made in the Recommendation that the specific role of social partner organisations should be fully recognised and upheld in social dialogue structures and processes, noting that civil dialogue, which involves a broader range of stakeholders and topics, is a separate process. This distinction should also be made in capacity-building support for the social partners and civil society.