Social dialogue as an important pillar of economic sustainability and the resilience of economies taking into account the influence of lively public debate in the Member States (Exploratory opinion at the request of the German presidency)

EESC opinion: Social dialogue as an important pillar of economic sustainability and the resilience of economies taking into account the influence of lively public debate in the Member States (Exploratory opinion at the request of the German presidency)

Key points

Social dialogue, at national and European level, plays a key role in shaping economic, labour and social policies that promote the upward convergence of living and working conditions across Member States, as well as in responding to the challenges Europe is confronted with, including the COVID-19 crisis.

The EESC recognises that effective social dialogue must include: representative and legitimate social partners with the knowledge, technical capacity and timely access to relevant information to participate; the political will and commitment to engage in social dialogue; respect for the fundamental rights of autonomy for the social partners, freedom of association and collective bargaining and an enabling legal and institutional framework to support social dialogue processes with well-functioning institutions.

The EESC encourages the European social partners to exploit all of the potentialities the Treaty and EU legislation offers them to engage in negotiations to address the new topics and rapid changes in the labour market.

The Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights will explore ways of strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining. The involvement of the social partners in the Semester process should be considered key to achieving effective results. The EESC calls for the introduction of a mechanism that grants the social partners the right to be consulted at both EU and national level.

The EESC urges the European Commission, in consultation with the European-level social partners, to provide, through European initiatives, clear and transparent criteria regarding the implementation of sectoral social partner agreements, as provided for in Article 155(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The lessons learnt from previous crises are that: countries with well-established social dialogue institutions and industrial relations systems are more likely to formulate rapid and effective tripartite responses. The prompt and effective involvement of the social partners and the support of governments are key factors in addressing the immediate consequences of the crisis, in addition to longer-term recovery-planning to protect and promote employment through sustainable enterprises and social investments.

Collective bargaining coverage and processes at all levels should be prioritised. Inclusiveness in the social protection systems of vulnerable group of workers and citizens should be a priority for public policy.

Sound corporate governance based on social dialogue, collective bargaining and respect for workers' rights to information, consultation and participation can make it possible to achieve positive economic targets, together with social and environmental goals. Facilitating the taking of informed management decisions in matters of direct interest to workers contributes to a sustainable and fairer business model. This helps to promote the European social model, which is an engine for the competitiveness of European companies.

Growing globalised and interconnected economies have caused an evolution of social dialogue and require a common and coordinated approach at European level. Workers’ information, consultation and participation rights are recognised in EU legislation and are fundamental for effective social dialogue; the quality and effectiveness of European Works Councils Directives in transnational restructuring processes have to be improved; shortcomings need to be remedied and enforcement measures must be put in place, together with effective and proportionate sanctions. The EESC has already called for a harmonised framework at the EU level regarding workers’ board-level participation, but the European Company Law that was approved failed to address this proposal.

The EESC encourages flexible, goal-oriented solutions based on negotiations between employers’ and workers' representatives to determine the specific arrangements for information, consultation and participation, while ensuring a level playing field and adequate minimum protection.

The Committee calls for action at European and national level to ensure respect for the right to information and consultation in restructuring processes resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.

In the management of the post-pandemic crisis, the EESC recommends: (i) the proper involvement of the social partners in the designing and implementation of national recovery plans; (ii) better cooperation between the social partners and the European Commission in ensuring the consistent use of European resources; and (iii), for the EU Commission to push forward a new temporary financial instrument to support the extraordinary activities that have to be carried out in the recovery phase, as jointly proposed by the European Social Partners.