European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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24 March 2017

Benchmarking Working Europe: taking stock of social dialogue and workers’ rights

In its recently released report ‘Benchmarking Working Europe 2017’, the ETUI has reviewed the state of play on social dialogue and workers’ rights by examining the Commission’s 2017 Work Programme, jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, and by delving into a wide range of data from both within and outside the ETUI.

“It’s a story of one step forward, two steps back for social dialogue and workers’ participation”, has commented Aline Hoffmann, the head of the unit Europeanisation of Industrial Relations.

Although social dialogue can look back on a long history and oft-repeated declarations of support, and although workers’ rights to have a say at company level have been enshrined in a wide range of EU law for decades, the ETUI still see an alarmingly wide divergence in the actual existence of workers’ participation actors and processes and a lack of improvement or even convergence.

Here are some of the main findings:

  • While the sectoral social dialogue proven more productive, the cross-sectoral European Social Dialogue has been stumbling along at best.   
  • Unless the Pillar of Social Rights indeed delivers a catalyst, the outlook for social legislation is rather bleak, since the few social legislation initiatives still in play are largely stuck in either preparatory or evaluation stages, and there are even fewer new initiatives in the pipeline.  
  • Half of all employees lack any kind of collective interest representation through trade unions or works councils at the workplace, the gap is even greater when we include board-level employee representation and collective bargaining strength.
  • Due to a 20 year-old grandfather clause, half of all European Works Councils continue to operate outside the EWC Directive, thereby missing out on the important improvements last made in 2009.
  • Even those improvements were clearly not enough: our review of evaluations of the impact of the Recast EWC Directive, and an examination of recent transnational restructuring, shows that there remains plenty of room for improvement.
  • A complete Brexit could well deprive UK workers of both direct access to the central managements of their multinational as well as the opportunity to coordinate with their colleagues abroad. 
  • The European Court of Justice provides some grounds for optimism that the gulf between the rights of atypical workers and that of their counterparts working in more typical forms of employment may be bridged. 
  • The European Participation Index, which includes three sources of worker influence on companies (board-level workers’ representation, workplace representation and collective bargaining coverage) has seen some internal shifts in some countries, but the ranking remains largely the same in past years.  
  • Some interesting developments have been seen in the Europeanisation of board-level representation, but these have also revealed some legal, democratic and operational obstacles.

For more data and analysis, see Chapter 4 of Benchmarking Working Europe 2017.

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