This database of joint social dialogue documents is a useful tool that makes it possible to analyse the sectoral social partners’ ‘output’. It enables comparisons to be drawn between sectors, their levels of activity, the topics addressed, and even the approach to social dialogue developed by the social partners.
The authors who contributed to this database are: Stefan Clauwaert, Christophe Degryse, Philippe Pochet
extract from Degryse C. (2021) Holy union? The sectoral social partners and the Covid 19 crisis in Europe, Report 2021.04, Brussels, ETUI.
The European sectoral social dialogue database managed by the ETUI contains some 1 016 joint texts for the period 1978 to 2020. They are documents that were adopted jointly by employers’ and workers’ representative organisations at European level in the sectors concerned. Currently, there are 43 sectors with formally established ‘sectoral social dialogue committees’ (SSDCs), some of which have very close ties to EU policies (e.g. agriculture, transport), and some of which are apparently fairly removed from them (e.g. horeca [hospitality] or hairdressing). But, regardless of their proximity to European policy, the social partners in each of these sectors have all been concerned to meet, hold discussions and establish a form of dialogue at European level.
In addition to exchanging information, pooling experience and making national comparisons, one of the major outcomes of social dialogue is the adoption of joint texts. The texts may vary in nature and objectives, and deal with different topics. They may be addressed to a variety of recipients, for example businesses in the sector, national governments, the European Commission, or members of European organisations and federations.
Together with the types of texts adopted, this diversity reflects the extensive range of sectors in terms of the sizes of businesses they represent, the volume of employment, the degree of Europeanisation and stakeholder dynamics. In order to attempt to analyse the situation, it is therefore necessary to construct analytical frameworks. The first such framework concerns the texts adopted. We have classified the texts in six categories depending on their addressees and their function (see Table 1).
It is clear from this table that European sectoral social dialogue is used by the social partners chiefly in an attempt to influence European policy and legislative processes. Over half the texts adopted are ‘common positions’ addressed to the EU institutions and/or the governments of the Member States and aim to achieve a policy change. This is what we mean by ‘joint lobbying’.
The second function of social dialogue is to commit the social partners, in binding or non‑binding fashion depending on the nature of the texts involved, to improve working conditions in the sector at issue. This function operates through texts ranging from simple ‘declarations’ devoid of any legally binding effect, via ‘guidelines’ and ‘tools’ to ‘agreements’ that can be made the subject of directives. It is immediately clear that the enforceability and level of monitoring of these texts is inversely proportional to the number of texts: the greater the enforceability, e.g. agreements, the fewer the number. However, this should not lead to a hasty impression that the quality of sectoral social dialogue should be assessed solely on the basis of the enforceability of the adopted texts.
Armed with this analytical distinction, we can study how sectoral social dialogue (SSD) has developed by noting the proportion of joint lobbying texts to the proportion of reciprocal undertakings (all levels of enforceability included). The chart below shows how these functions have developed: the light grey shows the number of joint lobbying texts; the dark grey the number of reciprocal undertakings (see Figure 1).
This chart shows that the ‘reciprocal undertakings’ function rose proportionally throughout the 1990s until 2005‑2007, and that the pattern then went into reverse; this is presented in clearer fashion in the chart below, which expresses the same data in percentage form (see Figure 2).As far as we are concerned in this paper, the chart also shows that, in absolute figures, the year 2020 is far and away the year of the greatest activity between the sectoral social partners. We shall develop this quantitative analysis in the next section.
Again on methodological matters, we drew up a topic-based classification for each adopted text based on the area addressed in the text. Each text is placed in one of the 13 categories set out below:
- Social aspects of Community policies (e.g. Joint Resolution on the need of a strong social dimension in the Common Fisheries Policy);
- Working conditions (e.g. EFCI and UNI Europa joint Statement for the European Campaign for Declared Work 2020 – #EU4FairWork, in industrial cleaning);
- Sustainable development (e.g. The circular bioeconomy: an opportu‑nity for Europe’s growth and jobs, in the paper sector);
- Social dialogue (e.g. For a New Decade of Ambitious and Cooperative EU Sectoral Social Dialogue in Road Transport);
- Enlargement (e.g. Strengthening social dialogue and reinforcing capacities of national social partner organizations in the new member states in the performing arts sector);
- Employment (e.g. Joint Declaration on Demographic change in the European Postal Sector);
- Training (e.g. Joint Response to Consultation on Update of the Skills Agenda for Europe, in private security);
- Non-discrimination (e.g. Joint ETUCE/EFEE Statement on Multicul‑turalism, Democratic Citizenship and Social Inclusion in Education);
- Economic and/or sectoral policies (e.g. A long‑term and ambitious EU Raw Materials Strategy, in the mining sector);
- Corporate social responsibility (e.g. Agreement on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Contract Catering Sector);
- Restructuring (e.g. policy guidelines, human resources development strategies, better anticipation and management of change in the central government sector);
- Health and Safety (e.g. HOSPEEM‑EPSU position in view of the European Commission study supporting the assessment of different options concerning the protection of workers from exposure to hazardous medicinal products, in the hospitals sector);
- Working time (e.g. European agreement concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time in inland waterway transport).
Of course, any one text may address more than one topic, and therefore the database allows multiple classifications (topic 1, topic 2).In closing this section on methodology, we note that, in order to be able to contextualise the texts, in other words to place them in the context of a particular matter of interest, we have added a list of tags that make it possible, where relevant, to link the texts to news events or specific issues. In 2020, we added the tag ‘Covid-19’. This system of classification cross-referencing by types of text, topics and tags, enables us to identify, with some degree of accuracy, the role that the sectoral social partners set out to play at European level.