A new start for social dialogue needs a change of pace in trade union involvement in economic governance

The ETUC TU-I index below shows the involvement of trade unions at the milestones of the semester cycle at national level. It is still largely unsatisfactory. Despite the commitment of the Juncker Commission to a new start for social dialogue in recent years, governments have too often largely disregarded the involvement of trade unions in the design and implementation of their reform plans.

In 2017, in 10 Member States, consultations did not take place at all (grey) or were carried out very poorly (red), while in 10 other countries consultations took place but the quality of the dialogue should be improved (yellow). ETUC members reported a satisfactory level of involvement in only five countries. In Hungary, Spain, Cyprus and Romania, four TU organisations that were not consulted submitted unanswered formal requests to their governments.

TUs had access to key documents at the time of consultation in just 13 countries and could meet decision-makers in only nine countries. However, what is underlined in the negative results of the TU-I Index is the correlation between the timing and the quality of the dialogue. All the five countries which reported a satisfactory level of involvement were provided with enough time to analyse the government’s documents and prepare their own positions. All the other TUs consulted (13 out of 18) found that the timing was unreasonable or insufficient.

A positive correlation can be found also with the format of the meeting. Structured consultations that include meetings at political levels are often associated with a higher level of satisfaction. Written procedures with written exchange of documents between trade unions and governments may also lead to good results, if supported by reasonable timeframes.

On this basis, the ETUC calls for the next AGS to apply the Quadripartite statement signed by the European social partners, the European Commission and the Council on A New Start for Social Dialogue on 27 June 2016 and the EMCO Key messages on successful involvement of Social Partners in national European Semester processes of 22 November 2016.

Social dialogue should be better used to design and implement policies. The ETUC calls on the Commission and the Council to issue specific recommendations to Member States that do not properly involve trade unions at the milestones of the EU Semester.

The ETUC defines trade union involvement In the Semester as any form of dialogue¹ with national and European decision-makers which meaningfully², in a timely manner³, with adequate capacities and at the appropriate level⁴ is conducive to ETUC affiliates exercising influence in the designing and in the implementation of policies at the milestones of the European Semester and, if desired, in any other process related to the economic governance of the EU.

  1. Dialogue: Dialogue is a process that consists of a two-way flow of information, involving at least the decision-maker and the trade unions, which has the potential to lead to the conclusion of an agreement.
  2. Meaningfully: trade unions should have access to complete written information to deliver a fully-informed position.
  3. At the appropriate level: the dialogue should take place with those who are actually able to influence policy decisions. This can be at political level (i.e., Ministries, Undersecretaries, etc.), but technical levels can also be useful and desirable to better prepare consultation with the appropriate political level.
  4. In a timely manner: sufficient time should be made available to trade unions to elaborate on the position/intentions of the decision-maker and react according to their actual capacities, without altering or derogating from their internal democratic constraints.